Saturday, January 25, 2014


Anyone who follows me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram may have seen my recent photo and post about my journaling. I have been keeping a journal since I was 8 years old, but only since I was 19 have I really kept it on a consistent basis. Recently, I saw a blog post from someone who had been journaling for about a year that offered some great tips for those who maybe aren't sure where to start, including a template to follow. I think the suggestions are great and if you do a web search, you can find all sorts of tips and suggestions for those interested. I thought, though, that I'd share some of my own experience, habits, and what works for me and why. It's not to show off, but hopefully to help anyone who is interested!

My Derby grandparents (big into family history) got me my first journal for Christmas in 1990 when I was 8. It was the 6.5x8" size and had a royal blue cover with my name embossed on the bottom right. At that age I had no idea what to write in it, and I remember my mom telling me I should write what I felt about things. My entries in that first journal were quite sporadic. "What I felt" often was as simple as "I feel great", but I did mention what was doing. It carried me up until I was 19. The first entries of my mission were in that book too. I would occasionally put little mementos in it too. Some things I remember were a $2 bill and the ticket to General Conference the first year the Conference Center was open in 2000, and for awhile I had a 4-leaf clover I found in our yard.

Thinking about that first journal always makes me sad, though, because I lost it. Well, more I had it stolen. The very first night I was in Tucson at the beginning of my mission, most of my luggage was stolen, including the suitcase that had that journal in it. I shudder when I think of what happened to it since whoever stole my stuff (and all the other new missionaries' stuff) probably threw it away. I only had a few pages left in it too and had just started getting more consistent in my journal writing as my mission had started. That journal and the Christmas stocking that my Grandma Ridinger made for me when I was born were both lost and were the hardest things to lose for me since I'm a sentimental person. Every Christmas I'm reminded of that because my Grandma made me a new stocking after I got home in 2003.

Anyway, I got new journals and started writing every few days. Soon, though, I was watching a video about early Church History (Mountain of the Lord) that features Wilford Woodruff, 4th president of the Church. He was a prolific journal writer. In the video, a dramatic recreation of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, Woodruff makes a statement to a reporter who is writing about the temple dedication that he made sure not to retire each night until he made a record of the day. For whatever reason, that stuck with me and made an impression. I wanted to have a record of each day and what was going on in my life and what I was thinking, not only for me, but for any posterity. From then on, I almost always wrote every day. In the instances I couldn't write, I usually wrote the next night and wrote about both days.

That continued almost unabated until 2007, when I started getting sporadic, which corresponded with the beginning of a less than spectacular part of my life, but also the beginning of my blogging. I have dated pages but nothing else written, but have blog posts that fill in the gap somewhat. Eventually, journaling came to a grinding halt. Where most volumes of my journal cover a little less than a year each (200 or so pages), Volume 13 covers a period of 5 years and 2008 is completely absent. I wrote in December 2007 and the next entry is March 2009. I only made 2 entries in 2009 (one more in May) and then not again until May 2010. I tried to restart it in 2010 with very limited success. 2011 was similar. I went through a period of about 2 months where I was writing regularly again, but then it stopped again with a gap between March and December 2011. 2012 was when I finally restarted every day as a New Year's Resolution, starting right off with January 1. It's gone on pretty much non-stop since then.

When I had stopped writing in my journal and started doing more blogging I did consider just doing all my journal writing on the computer. In the end, I decided not to because I liked being able to be away from the computer for a little bit and having something that was written with my actual handwriting as opposed to just typed. The downside is that it's hard to index since it's all handwritten.  At some point I would like to transcribe the entire thing onto the computer so it can be indexed and I can add pictures and footnotes as needed, not to mention have a another copy of it somewhere (I use a cloud service, so I wouldn't worry about losing it with the computer). Even so, I continue to write it by hand. It's also worth noting that my blogging decreased noticeably once I started writing in my journal more.

Journal size
All of my journals...currently in Volume 17. Volume 1 is missing. The blank 
one in front of 2 is a journal I got as a kid (after my first journal) that I never
used as I found it in my things only recently. There is no significance to the 
colors.  My Missionary Journal on the left has things written by others on 
my mission.
Earlier this year I switched from the 6.5x8" sized journals to the 8.5x11" size, purely by accident. LDS Church Distribution stopped producing the journals that I had been using for years, so I had to look elsewhere to find new ones. I found some at Deseret Book that I liked and ordered them, but nowhere did it say what size they were. Well, they were the 8.5x11" size and I got two. In the smaller journals, I always filled at least a page per day. I figured with these larger pages that wouldn't be the case, but it largely has been. Very few pages aren't full. Anyone who knows me isn't surprised ONE BIT!

So what do I write about? I really don't have a template or pattern as far as content goes. Some days are very much logs of what happened, while others are much more focused on my thoughts and feelings at the time. That's why I write every day, so I have a snapshot of my life right then. Every day there is at least some mention of what I did, though. I've noticed when I have periods where the days are very similar (which happens in the summer when I'm usually not working), I do focus more on what I'm thinking, which makes sense since I have more time to think (or overthink...).  My Grandma Derby (who got me my first journal) also keeps a daily journal, though hers tends to be much more of a log and is far less detailed than mine. She does hers on the computer, but just to print it out and keep in a notebook.

The important things are first, to make it YOU. What do YOU want to remember? What do you want your eventual posterity to remember or read about you? I think about that whenever I write, almost like I'm writing it for someone else as much as I'm writing it for me. On that note, though, it's also very therapeutic and helps me process the events of the day to write about them, especially if I'm frustrated. Sometimes I need to vent frustrations that cannot be done here on this public blog or even on my private blog.

Next is to make it a habit. I write every day because I know that I probably won't be consistent otherwise, plus I'm a details person. Others may find it easier to write every few days depending on what they want to include in their entries. I keep my current journal right on my desk so I see it and I have the pens I use for it (see below about my pens...). Because I like to write before midnight (again, see below), it's also a habit that I automatically need to get the journal before midnight. That took some mental stamina at the beginning and making it a priority, similar to scripture study for many of us. Really, though, once you get through about 2 weeks of that, it will become a habit. Having everything right there as a reminder, though, is a huge help too.

Here are some of my preferences:
  1. I use Pilot G2 gel pens to write. I prefer the blue and black "extra fine" (0.5mm) point, but also use the fine (0.7mm) point. I use that brand because I like how they look and are good for archival purposes. In other words, they won't fade. I use the size just because it looks cleaner when I write as opposed to the medium or bold points. If you choose to journal using a computer, this is obviously a moot point. 
  2. I alternate blue or black ink by day, regardless of how many pages an entry may take. So, for instance, my entry for November 27 is in black ink and my entry for November 28 is blue. I do this just for the visual aspect: it's easier to tell the days apart. If I were using a computer, I might do something similar, either use a different color or a different font. 
  3. When I was taking a Family History class in 2004 at BYU-Idaho, the professor suggested we put the day of the week along with the date for journal entries and I've done that ever since. It makes it easier to find things if I know what day of the week something was on. I usually put the day of the week in small letters after the date and I use the three-letter abbreviation for the day. Example: January 15th, 2014 WED 
  4. I always include what time I start the entry. Not sure when I started doing that, but I used to include the time I finished the entry too, but ended up stopping since there were times I wouldn't finish before being too tired, so I'd have this end time several hours later... I include the start time because it's part of that snapshot of my life right then.
  5. I typically write at night right before I go to bed or near that time, all part of that daily record. I usually try to write before midnight so the entry matches the date. In 2012 when I was getting back in the habit, there would be times I was too tired to write, so I'd take my journal to work and write during breaks or slow times. Some have suggested doing it in the morning, and really, it all depends on your schedule and when it can fit the best. It's more important to find A time as opposed to THE time. 
  6. I've done a few different things when I'm writing after midnight in regards to the entry date and start time, but now I just date it for the date I'm writing about, but in the start time I put the time and that it's the next day (so, for instance, it will have "12:54 AM Jan 4" as the start time, but the date at the top will say "January 3rd, 2014 FRI").
You don't need to write a book, but I do recommend writing at least something every day or every other day. There is so much insight we can get from going back and reading past entries, not to mention remembering events and thoughts. Like I said, it is not uncommon for me to go back and read my journal entries to find out when something happened. Bottom line, though, is make it YOU. Make it something that is valuable to you now and will be of value to your own or someone else's posterity. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Evaluating Information

With the rise of social media the past decade, it is now more possible than ever to share information. Sure, we've been doing long before social media came out or even before email became widespread, but now it's easier than before. I have often said that as much as we live in the "Information Age", we also live in the "Disinformation" and "Misinformation" Age too. Yes, being able to spread information is quick and easy, but it's just as quick and easy to spread false information, whether intentional or not, too.

We all remember back when email was still new for most people who those forwards would work. They usually involved some kind of conspiracy theory or "secret" that someone didn't want you to know. Even today I occasionally get email forwards and almost all of them are false. They're really a form of electronic gossip.

On social media, I frequently notice many of my friends posting articles on topics they are either passionate about or interested in. The places I tend to see the most questionable information is with health and diet, though politics is another popular one, especially near elections. Many very well-intentioned people want to spread what appears to be good information, but are instead passing along information that is either partially or completely false, or is just based on outdated and/or anecdotal evidence.

What's interesting, and somewhat sad, is that when I or someone else brings to the poster's attention that the article likely has blatantly false or otherwise questionable information (with an explanation or link to show why we think that), it's often met with disdain or open hostility from the original poster or others who are following. It's too often a classic case of "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up."

On sites like Facebook, these false or misleading information sources can be in the form of links to articles, blog posts, or images. Why do these persist? Because the average person assumes they're true without any kind of examination and then passes them along. The solution to this isn't restricting what we can post or send, but rather, educating people to know how to evaluate information so they don't pass along things that aren't true.

There are several websites available that are devoted to fact checking, such as and, both of which have Facebook pages. But you know what? You don't need either of those sites to spot a garbage article or post, though they are helpful. These are points I look at when evaluating information. Ask yourself these simple questions:

1. Do the claims sound outlandish or too good to be true?
  • If yes, it most likely is! It's garbage and not worth your time or anyone else's!
    • As old as it is, if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.
  • If no, move on to the next question.
    • Even if you may not agree with some of the claims, if they seem at least plausible, perhaps they might be true!

2. Does this have any sources?
  • If no, then it most likely garbage and isn't worth your time or anyone else's!
    • Anything that is worthwhile, especially if it's a health or diet-related article, will take the time to include sources.
  • If yes, move on to the next question.

3. What kinds of sources does this have?
  • If from personal blogs or from any kind of special interest group, then it's most likely biased and/or garbage and isn't worth your time or anyone else's! 
    • Despite their best intentions, when advocacy groups are the only source, they are inherently biased since they clearly have an interest in what your opinion is. They're not presenting the information for you to make a balanced decision, they're presenting it so you choose their position. Always look for more neutral sources of data to draw conclusions from.
  • If from established news sources and peer-reviewed journals, move on to the next question. 
    • News outlets are hardly free from bias and false information, but there is at least some degree of editorial oversight. Peer-reviewed journals and publications are even better sources, especially for any type of health or diet-related article or statistics.

4. How are the sources used?
  • If they are present but don't appear to support any of the claims of the article or graphic, then guess what? It's GARBAGE and not worth your time or anyone else's! 
    • Many times an article will have a bunch of sources listed, but the sources don't actually support what is in the article. For instance, an article might state that "many people" had a particular reaction to a food but the actual source gives a specific number, like 15 of 200 in the study group. 
  • If they support the claims with legitimate research and documentation, you have a winner! 
    • Share it with your friends and family to spread GOOD information and to help them see what GOOD information looks like!

Now, there will always be articles that look genuine and appear to have good sources and even legitimate studies attached to them, but in reality, aren't. Not all studies are conclusive and many simply don't follow any kind of proper procedures (like the sample size, for instance) to get trustworthy results. Just because an article has sources, even many, doesn't mean anything. The sources have to be evaluated as much as the content. If you're ever not sure about an article or graphic, like it appears to be trustworthy and legit, but you can't say for sure, say so in your post or just don't post it.

Anyone who's connected to me on Facebook knows an article I posted a link to recently was one I thought was "garbage". It was entitled "Why the Amish Don't Get Sick" and was making its rounds on my Facebook feed from several well-meaning friends. While the article did have sources, it only had a few and some of the main points (particularly the claim that the Amish don't get vaccinated) didn't have any sources. Why not? Well, it's not true, for one, and is based on a misconception that the Amish simply avoid all modern medicine. They don't. In fact, many (if not the majority) of the Amish do get vaccinated. Just reading the article it was clear that the author was pushing a specific viewpoint, not just providing facts for a reader to make any kind of educated decision about.

Another interesting occurrence on that article was in reading the comments. Now, comments on an article should always be read with caution since anyone can say anything, but there were a significant amount of comments from people who claimed to live in or near Amish communities in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that refuted many of the claims of the article, not only on the vaccination issue but the very notion that the Amish "don't get sick" or even use completely natural farming methods (another tenet of the article which is simply not true). But really, the comments simply added to the already shaky "facts" the article was built on. In other words, I didn't need the comments to know that the article had some major problems; the comments merely confirmed my own analysis of the content. About the only truth in the article is that the Amish typically get more physical activity than a typical American just because of the manual labor they have to do on things that most of us have machines for. But stress free? All organic? No autism or cancer? Uh, no.

Another link I saw recently had to do with aspartame, which has been very controversial. The link was to what was purported to be a report from the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) about the dangers of aspartame. It cites several studies and other sources and appears legitimate, but there's one problem: it's not a report of the FDA. Yes, it can be found on the FDA website, but upon reading the very first lines of the document, it's clearly stated that the text is from an email to the FDA from a person named Mark D. Gold of the Aspartame Toxicity Information Center, sent January 12, 2003. In other words, this isn't beyond the realm of bias as it's from an advocacy group which wishes to have aspartame banned in the United States. It certainly isn't a damning report on aspartame from the FDA itself as many seem to believe it is. No, being a Federal agency, an email to the FDA is public record.

Now, I don't present this to discredit Mr. Gold or his organization or to promote aspartame (I don't typically drink diet sodas simply because of the taste), but rather to caution readers as they evaluate information. This is an exercise in evaluating information and also presenting it correctly. If someone wishes to present this, it needs to be presented as an email from Mark D. Gold of the Aspartame Toxicity Information Center, not a report from the FDA. I haven't been able to sit down and evaluate the content of his email either (how he used the studies, how legit the studies were, whether they actually support his claims, etc.); all I can tell you that aspartame is still legal in the US.

One final point in evaluating information is to watch out for anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is when we observe a certain behavior or occurrence either with our own eyes or reading about it. While anecdotal evidence can often be correct, it can just as often be totally wrong because we don't have all the facts or are just observing a very small group of people or things.

For instance, I saw a blog post dealing with diets in the early 20th century, 19th, and even 18th centuries. The basic premise was that people lived longer back then because of their diets. Unfortunately, the post failed the very first test about sources because, well, it doesn't have ANY to support scientific and diet claims. The only "evidence" offered is COMPLETELY anecdotal. Examples? To prove that people back then had less stress, the author uses a single journal entry from a relative in the early 20th century. A single journal entry. Really? From that we can determine without a doubt that people back then were under less stress than we are today? Huh? Never mind that people back then had to worry about all sorts of things we don't even think about today and that people deal with stress differently.

Another example of anecdotal evidence was showing some of the lifespans of the author's and her husbands ancestors. She uses two of her ancestors and two of her husbands. TWO! Since they both had relatives who lived into their 70s and 80s back into the early 19th century, well, obviously it was because of their diet AND the lifespans of everyone around them were just as long. Never mind how small a group that sample is coming from, any role genetics played there, or if other family members actually lived that long.

To top it off, there's even a generalization that the reason our life expectancy has increased (and continues to do so) is simply from improvements in infant mortality. Actual health experts have attributed several factors to life expectancy (see the Wikipedia article and the many sources it has!), among them better diet and of course, improved medical care. Yes, infant mortality plays a role in that average, but so does the fact that people, particularly children, aren't dying from things like a ruptured appendix that couldn't be detected in time, or cholera in the water supply, or even a simple bacterial infection that wasn't dealt with properly.  In other words, simply attributing the rise in life expectancy only to improvements in infant mortality is simplistic and inaccurate.

I could go on an entire post about some of these specific instances, but the bottom line is evaluate your information before you decide to pass it on to others. I certainly don't like passing on bad info and misleading others, even if I had all the greatest intentions in the world. Even if an article seems to fit your personal views on something, if it doesn't have decent sources, good heavens, don't pass it on unless you can verify reality. The more we as a general public demand out of our sources of information, the better they will get in terms of quality. If we want others to be persuaded by our opinions and interpretations, we need to make sure what we're spreading is actually substantiated. Spreading nonsense helps no one.