Useful App: Squirt

In this next installment of software lifehacks, I will be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart (while also stubbornly evasive since it is a difficult skill to master): speedreading.


Here’s an article where information overload is actually the relevant topic (a reference to my page on a prior segment of the software reviews, f.lux). Whether we are:

a) browsing research papers and documentation on the job,

b) browsing Reddit on the job,

c) flipping through the latest literary masterpieces at Barnes and Noble,

d) browsing Reddit off work,

or whatever, we’re continuously bombarded with information. Knowledge is power; as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute knowledge or omniscience makes one look like a giant pretentious douchebag. Still, to gain all that knowledge before we find ourselves in the lovely world of diapers, dentures, dementia, drool and discharge bequeathed to us by old age, we must master the art of speedreading.


A dual-faceted skill, speedreading not only necessitates a rapid progression of attention from one blob of characters to the next, but an equally fast comprehension, retention, and storage procedure. I don’t need to instruct you on proper use of search engine technology to find tutorials on improving your speedreading capabilities, although I may feature an article on the topic someday if I become proficient enough to offer advice.


For now, though, I will vouch for the browser plugin called Squirt (don’t worry, despite the name, this won’t end in an underhanded redirect to a NSFW site. I promise. You also don’t need instruction in blocking and / or reaching those sites yourself. However, innuendos are fair game here).


So what is Squirt? Put simply, it’s a black-box type tool to convert any webpage you are viewing into a stream of words, projected one by one on the screen in the exact same position (the horizontal center of the browser window) and at a user-specified pace defined in words per minute (WPM). You’ll likely grasp the advantage that this information-absorbing modality carries, namely, saving your eyes from passing back and forth following lines of text across the screen. Instead, you become the garbage can recipient of a relentless fountain of black, serif knowledge-vomit making a direct beeline for your brain.


A snapshot of Squirt vomiting a Wikipedia page.
A snapshot of Squirt vomiting a Wikipedia page.


Wonderful, Bill, now that a vivid image of the Internet tossing its cookies at me (har har, very pucking punny) is cemented in my mind, why don’t you grace me more with your anecdotal experience with this plugin? Glad you asked! I started off with Squirting by first gauging where my reading speed was at – this entailed maxing the WPM meter and wondering …


… just how in the honest-to-god !@#$ does someone absorb anything from such a display of pyroclastic puke before having a seizure?


The answer is practice, lots and lots of practice. I’m trying to work my way through the 300s of WPM. It’s tough, at least for me. Think something like the opening scene of Robot Chicken: eventually you’ll become a clucking, all-knowing cyborg after strapping yourself down in front of your laptop with your eyes pried wide open 24/7 taking in feeds of news articles. Though if you can master multiple screens at once, why are you even on this blog, you goddamn robot?


In any case, it’s worth your time to pick up Squirt, available as a plugin (well, technically a bookmarklet, oh gee let’s all be freaking pedantic now) for Google Chrome as well as Firefox and Safari. A couple points:


First, it’s delightfully simple to use, as you just click the button on your bookmarks bar when you navigate to a page you’d wish to have Squirted into your face.


Second, it has been known to glitch out in my experience by spewing out undecipherable HTML tags and other behind-the-scenes nonsense. If that happens, don’t fret. You haven’t reached a heightened level of Matrix-esque existence and awareness. Your little browser buddy is just having trouble getting it up on screen. So, either just give it a cyberviagra or two by refreshing the page, or settle for regular old-school reading.


Good luck, godspeed, and happy speedreading! Hell, test it out on this post. Squirt: It just works!

Useful App: f.lux

As part of my series on the Terrajolt blog featuring reviews of software lifehacks, I’d like to jumpstart that vein with a somewhat brief review of a small yet powerful desktop program called f.lux.


In yet another maladaptive facet of modern culture and the Information Age, we humans have become all too accustomed to being plugged in to the cyber-world on a nearly constant basis. One need only step into the nearest sports bar to be lambasted with bright TV screens in full rich HD color broadcasting the day’s game or highlight reels. He or she then breaks out the smartphone to either confirm the now-tardy arrival of friends at the venue or stall time on Reddit until society’s greatest social lubricant and crutch (alcohol for those clueless few) kicks in and suppresses anxiety. Or perhaps one can also journey to the local Starbuck’s to furiously study and type away at school projects well into the night in front of his or her bright laptop monitor.


Wherever you happen to be, the ubiquity of electronic displays vomiting out information cannot be escaped. Information overload, despite what I’ve implied, isn’t the problem I’m unearthing though; rather, the lighting and color of these screens physiologically disrupt the natural process of the body preparing to enter into the twilight hours.


See, these screens were designed to mimic sunlight, which is all well and good, until the sun gets chased over the horizon by Skӧll, that scumbag wolf from Norse mythology, and the stars come out. Now you’re staring into a sunlight screen when there’s a clear absence of glowy, life-bestowing orb in the sky (giant ass disco balls don’t make the cut here, sorry). Your eyeballs warm up, burn and sting, spontaneously combust, and before you know it, you’re writhing on the ground screaming bloody murder because you just glared at your laptop for way too !@#$ing long.


Enter f.lux. This nifty mini-program process runs smoothly and silently in the background on your computer, not making a whisper except for two precise times of the day: sunrise and sunset. At those moments, f.lux swoops in like a cyber-ninja and alters the color content of your screen’s backlighting. At sunset, it reduces white light and drapes your screen in a relaxing shade of orange, subtle enough to warrant little more than a brief notice yet powerful enough to minimize strain on your eyes in the context of usual indoor lighting. At sunrise, it performs the opposite transition, increasing white light to promote the alertness evolutionarily packaged with a typical human’s morning routine stemming from being greeted by sunlight.


You can view the difference in the two screenshots below.


My screen prior to sunset.
My screen prior to sunset.
My screen after sunset. Noted the muted blue. This is what our eyes want!
My screen after sunset. Noted the muted blue. This is what our eyes want!


So why do I advocate getting this free program? Well, mainly because of the sleep-improving effects it possesses, and if there’s one thing us wired, frantic, party-loving, boozing, ball-busting, plugged-in Americans love to screw with and loathe, even more so than foreigners and minorities, it is our sleep schedules.  Also, it’s pretty clutch to watch the transition unfold in real-time (it doesn’t change colors instantly), like your computer’s going into red alert and !@#$ is about to get real.


I’ll eventually be compiling an entire segment of articles on sleep and why you’re not receiving high-quality shuteye, despite what you may think, but I figure this little snippet is a sufficient striptease of what is to come. So download f.lux and give it a trial run for a while. Also nab the mobile equivalent, Twilight, on your Android phone while you are at it (don’t know if it’s on the Apple Store as well but it’s worth a looksie).

L-Theanine: For all you caffeine junkies and stressed-out types

Let’s be honest here: Dunkin’ Donuts slogan “America Runs on Dunkin’” has a great deal of truth behind its claim, if a little conceitedly exaggerated in asserting the sole responsibility of DD for fueling America. C’mon now, Starbucks is at least as popular (and overrated). But coffee here in the US reigns supreme as the quintessential morning / afternoon / evening / late-night-prior-to-report-deadline stimulant of choice.


Every morning on workdays, I bear witness to a profound metamorphosis of putrescent creatures, voices screeching and mouths dripping with venom, shambling into my local coffee shop like zombies up to the register counter, only to magically transform into beings largely resembling normal humans (some don’t lose the screechy voice but ah well). Caffeine commands respect and even borderline awe-inspired, cultish worship. Its molecular structure is becoming an increasingly non-blasphemous religious icon resting loftily among the ranks of the Crucifix, the Star of David, and the Crescent.


However you prefer to consume your caffeine, whether chugging coffee, energy drinks, mixing or snorting straight powder, it behooves you to know that you’re not reaping the maximum benefit from your cup-of-joe routine. Many who have coffee in copious amounts each day (> 2 cups) report feeling jittery and anxious with their blood pressure and pulse swinging high, sometimes severely. Befitting my role as a blogger, I come bearing good news: now you can have your coffee and drink it too with the wonderfully synergistic addition of one particularly strong supplement: L’Theanine.


Just what is L’Theanine, outside of another nutritional dud that this charlatan Bill is attempting to peddle to his more gullible readership? Well, it is the principal amino acid (you know, protein building blocks) found in teas, especially green tea. As an analog to its protein constituent brother L’Glutamine (another amino acid and perhaps the subject of another post) and glutamate (the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain – the chemical mostly responsible for you powering through and acing your final exams), theanine has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and thus exert psychoactive effects on the brain… and boy, what a prolific spectrum of cognitively nurturing effects theanine produces!


Its pharmacology is a perfect trifecta of benefits:

1) it acts as a physical and mental stress reliever,

2) it improves your ability to think, and

3) it boosts mood and performance in conjunction with… you guessed it, caffeine!

Throw another synergistic compound in the mix if there actually is one, and now we’re rolling with a goddamn Holy Trinity of American Workplace Whoop-Ass. !@#$ Yeah!


Stress reduction tricks and techniques permeate our daily supply of information to a disturbing degree, matched only by health and nutrition articles waging war on each other’s contradictory claims, as well as advertisements for U. of Phoenix online degree programs. Some of these techniques are as cultish as caffeine and downright terrifying (I’m looking at you, Tension Reduction Exercises, or T.R.E. for short – it’s really an exorcise routine rather than an actual exercise. These guys make holy rollers seem like reasonable folks).


Theanine, however, is much more convenient, effective, and safe for public areas – it induces alpha wave activity in the brain, which if you’re unaware, is that feeling you get when you’re in the mother!@#$ing zone. While this guy mucks around with whatever the hell lives between your ears, you’re positively cruising, stress-free and highly focused on the task at hand. Another perk: it’s an immune system booster, enabling you to stave off disease better! [1] Oh, and one more thing – did I mention it is stupidly non-toxic, like, on the same echelon of I-can-have-as-much-as-I-freaking-want as good ol’ Mary Jane. [2]


See, what we are most concerned with vis-à-vis theanine’s role in improving our health and upgrading our lives is the synergy it has with caffeine. This synergy fortunately is innately built-in to green tea, which contains both chemicals. However, green tea doesn’t contain either in a SuperSizeVentiUltraQuintupleShotFifteenPumpMurica quantity that you and I so desperately crave. Instead, I advocate the supplementation of OTC theanine with your morning cup of coffee. You can purchase it at your nearest GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, or natural foods store.


I may be biased, but it is my stalwart belief that people, particularly xanthine hounds like myself, truly suffer from a vitiating theanine deficiency, more so than voluntary theanine supplementation merely unlocking people’s adaptive potential regarding stress. Relaying my personal anecdote, I’ve found that theanine added to my morning joe not only kicks my brain’s volume knob up a notch, it expertly curbs any anxiety I may otherwise feel at that time. Sometimes, if I dose too high relative to my caffeine intake, I’ll be downright stupefied with calm and awe with an idle grin smeared on my face, sitting there looking like I was blazed or something.


Your mileage may vary, and probably will. I cannot guarantee the efficacy of theanine on your system since people’s bodies, physiologies and chemistries are like snowflakes, each one unique, mostly water, and fragile as !@#$ when subjected to crushing forces.


Next question: how much theanine should I take? The answer is trial and error ultimately, but here’s the rule of thumb: you want a 2:1 ratio of theanine:caffeine if you’re a caffeine person, and probably around 100 mg at most if you’re not. The ratio means that, for example, if you down 2 cups of coffee in the morning (anywhere from 150 – 200 mg total of caffeine depending on the strength) then you should shoot for about 300 – 400 mg of theanine to complement that. The worst that’ll happen if you go a wee bit overboard is you’ll feel buzzed, which hey, if that gets you through your morning at work, then roll with it.


Where does all this discussion lead us? Simple: if you want an anxiety-reducing, focus-improving, swift kick to the tuchus pairing with your coffee, look no further than Theanine.


Now the usual liability-evasion clauses: Always consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your lifestyle, be it diet or fitness. Don’t take the advice of an exhaustingly world-weary recent master’s graduate in electrical engineering without several grains of salt. Do, however, talk to your doctor about the possibility of incorporating a theanine supplement into your routine. It may possess contraindications for various medications you’re on. Speaketh to thy doctor!



[1] Antigens in tea-beverage prime human Vγ2Vδ2 T cells in vitro and in vivo for memory and nonmemory antibacterial cytokine responses.

[2] A 13-week dietary toxicity and toxicokinetic study with l-theanine in rats.

[3] The Almighty Wikipedia for a ton of stuff (especially the myriad citations for cognition enhancement with caffeine):