Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lotus Notes and GTD

When I was using Lotus Notes years ago and far away, I made these notes to myself of how I was implementing GTD (or at least task management) using Lotus Notes. We'd been forcibly removed from Outlook, which was familiar, to Notes, which was stark and unfriendly.

Anyway, here are the notes so I can find them again later:

1. Here's a post I wrote years ago on the DavidCo board: http://www.davidco.com/forum/showpost.php?p=16631&postcount=8

2. Here are notes I wrote up a little while after the above post:

Herewith, some stray notes on how I’m working with GTD at my job using a variety of tools. I’m more fortunate than most, in that I have only 1 project to occupy me full-time, though many are the one-off tasks my manager assigns me. (My contract is ending in a few weeks, and the work winding down, so I have a little more free time on my hands to scribble these notes.) Apologies in advance for the length.

LOTUS NOTES -- I hate it, but what can you do? Rather like David’s method of ‘dumbing down’ Outlook, I’ve done the same with Notes. I only use a fraction of its power because 1) I don’t want to be a Notes guru and 2) the IT honchos have locked down the templates so they can’t be updated.

I discovered I prefer living in the email view over any of the other views, so it’s my home base. I’ve found that I prefer a two-dimensional approach to managing my mails; this translates into a single level of folders. However, I use folder names to provide an index, which let me scan quickly for the items I need. A typical folder name will be “P: 8bit: comms plan approvals”. Translation: P=project, 8bit=the overall project name, and then the specific sub-project. When the sub-project is all done, I move those mails into the “P: 8bit” folder, which holds ALL the mails for the 8bit project. It’s much simpler for me to know that all the project mails are in one place; makes them easier to search, and so on. I have as many P: folders as I need and delete/archive as needed.

I write up meeting notes for the various sub-teams we meet with (yes, putting my college degree to work). I keep a separate folder called “P: 8bit: Meeting notes” to hold that data. Useful to troll through during the weekly review for undone next actions, who-said-what-when issues, a record of ongoing work, and so on.

I also have a series of Reference: folders for corporate spam, personal stuff, anything NOT a project. I try to avoid having lots of folders as I find that, in my cleverness to categorize precisely, I’ll put one item in this folder, forget that I created that folder, and then create a new worded-slightly-differently folder tomorrow. What a mess. So I follow the precept ‘do the simplest thing that could possibly work,’ hence a few large buckets for emails.

I find I use the Drafts folder a lot. If I’m interrupted in the middle of a mail, I save it to Draft. If I’m framing out an article or a big email to go out to lots of folks, I’ll work on it and save it to Draft. So it holds in-progress work that I can pick up again later.

To a limited degree, I do use the Copy to Calendar and Copy to To-do List functions, the former more than the latter. When I had to track the vacation schedules of the folks on our team, I’d copy their mails to a to-do list category I’d created called “Team Schedules”, with their vacation dates in the subject line. This let me quickly scan who was in or out. When they came back, I deleted the to-do. It was a handy list. But I tend to use paper for my GTD lists.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

NaNoWriMo '06 - Lessons Learned

The blog went quiet in November because I decided to once again compete in the National Novel Writing Month competition. I blogged a bit about the comp last year when I dropped out then dropped back in. By then, though, it was too late and I only had about 30-some-thousand words by month's end. I've since learned that this is called the "sophomore slump."

This year, I stopped work on the short story that's taken my attention off and on throughout this year and plunged into nanowrimo '06. I got my friend Sue in California to do it with me for our first comp, in 2004, and we've done the comp together ever since. I should add, she has won every year.

She had difficulty with her book this year, but finished just in time. I, by contrast, had it pretty easy, apart from dealing with effluvia of the moment like family obligations, job, and school work. I thought about what made my freshman effort a success, and what could I do this year to be successful again.

I decided to go back to the source: Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! book. I read it in 2004, didn't read it in 2005, and decided that I probably should read it/skim it for 2006. I rediscovered Baty's checklists and reminders that helped me to reconnect with what made nanowrimo fun:
  • Get a magic totem that you always have with you when you write. For me, this is my black fedora-type hat that I wear. When Liz sees me wear the hat, she knows I'm writing.
  • Get the music going. I have a Baroque playlist on Rhapsody that helps put my brain in the right mood.
  • Make the writing a priority. I'm astonished at how many low-value activities I discard during nanowrimo.
  • Have fun. This should not be work (though there's effort).
  • Go for quantity, not quality. I think I took my story way too seriously last year. I was also trying to figure out a plot, what would happen next, which was not good for me. I worried too much about it. The main thing is to meet the daily word quota. It gave me great freedom to bring boring scenes to an end and start up something fresh.
  • This year, I read in and out of Samuel R. Delany's book About Writing, and it really turned my thinking around on plot. His contention is that plot is what you remember in retrospect. But for the writer writing, the process is more about structure: I just finished a slow passage with two people, I now need a fast passage with lots of people. Or: The last chapter took place in the past, the next chapter needs to take place in the present. The structures a writer uses to help him or her write a novel don't have to be as elaborate as Henry James, and they don't need to be obvious to the reader (solving that puzzle is part of the reader's fun) but I think they're like a rhyme scheme for a poet: they provide spaces that the writer's imagination is challenged to fill, and that challenge is part of the excitement of writing and imagining a world and characters. They also help to pull the writer along and keep the discovery process fresh.
  • Delaney is also pretty strict about writers starting at the beginning (no funky playing around with time, few flashbacks) and, even more importantly, setting the scene. Describe the setting. I found this to be incredibly valuable in getting my character into a physical space that would often come back to play a part later in the scene. I'm a believer in this now.
The Sunday prior to Nov. 1 I was strapped for an idea. I looked through my notebook and other loose pages for novel-length ideas, and was about to do my long-unapproached ghost story, but that's always struck me as maybe novella length, working toward a single effect, and not suitable for the grab bag that is the novel.

I was about ready to grab Sue's idea, till I thought for some reason about all the self-help books I've collected on my shelves. I thought, "Hm, what if someone goes to see lots of self-help gurus? Then, I could just spew all this self-help gunk I've been reading for years in the character of a guru, and that would up my word counts effortlessly!"

Well, not effortlessly, maybe, but I found the experience of writing about memory improvement, tarot, meditation, and journaling all helpful in the sense of putting down what I think I know into a narrative stream. And too, it was always a pleasure to do a core dump of these subjects and see my word count go up and up without having to worry about plot, character, or emotion.

My idea for the book's structure was that my character could go to a guru then spend a chapter consolidating his gains or losses, then off to the next guru and consolidation. A very simple two-part structure, with an introduction and an ending. Any development, if it happened, would happen on its own along the way.

The structure worked quite well (though I never followed it strictly, it did help get me started), as I was never really strapped for stuff to write, though I did often wonder "what can I put him through next?" The tarot and meditation sections both kept me busy for 3 or 4 days apiece, which I thought was pretty cool. This structure also had the very helpful gambit of bringing in someone new every couple of days. I was always surprised by who showed up to take the stage for the next bit of guru-dom, and even I chuckled to myself now and then and shook my head at what what these strange people were doing and saying.

Another thing that helped me out this year was my decision to go for 2000 words/day when I wrote. I missed about 3 days early on in the month, and the "2000K every-day" mantra eventually got me back on track. I finished two days early with an incredible (for me) 5000-word burst that finally put me over the top. (I knew I had to work late the next two nights, so I had to make the heroic effort or work even harder on those two nights to do both my work and the novel.) I find it very easy to generate about 1000-1200 words in a sitting, but that last 500-800 words were a struggle. When I could, I broke the writing up into two daily sessions about 1000 words each, and that worked very well.

Nanowrimo always teaches me something about my writing process and I learned a lot that I hope I'll take back to my short-story writing. Someone in my writing group asked me why I did it, why not just write the novel normally. A couple of reasons would be:
  • It's more fun this way.
  • I like doing it with Sue.
  • I need the practice. I get hours and hours of writing practice in November that I don't get throughout the year.
  • I'm often surprised in a way that I'm not when writing normally. I didn't know I had this idea in me, and I didn't know that what came out would be pretty good (I'd say I got about a third or more of really good material that can be shaped later.)
  • It helps me remember that writing can be fun, that sometimes I don't need great ideas to get started. All I need to do is sit down and write.
Links

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Links Roundup - Hard Drives Failures, Flintstones

The main theme of these links is recovering or preparing to recover from hard disk failure, inspired by a co-worker's sad experience last week. Most of these links come from the indispensible Lifehacker site (what did we do before Lifehacker??)

Recover data from a crashed hard drive - Lifehacker
http://www.lifehacker.com/software/disk-recovery/recover-data-from-a-crashed-hard-drive-146386.php

Ask Lifehacker: Reinstalling Windows? - Lifehacker
http://www.lifehacker.com/software/windows/ask-lifehacker--reinstalling-windows-137288.php

Why you need a Linux live CD - Lifehacker
"Help2Go is running an article on why you (a Windows user) should download and burn your very own Linux live CD in prepartation for your darkest Windows hours."
http://www.lifehacker.com/software/disk-recovery/why-you-need-a-linux-live-cd-136639.php

Dowload of The Day: BartPE - Lifehacker
"BartPE is a free utility that lets you build a live CD-based copy of Windows XP that can be used for data recovery."
http://www.lifehacker.com/software/downloads/dowload-of-the-day-bartpe-116599.php

GRC|SpinRite 5.0 to 6.0
http://www.grc.com/spinrite.htm
Hold your nose re the web design and explore the screenshots and stuff. Been around for years, has a great reputation

SpinRite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpinRite
Includes a link to criticism of Spinrite's marketing claims

Geek to Live: Build your "PC on a stick" with MojoPac - Lifehacker
"Set up your "PC on a stick" with portable software MojoPac, a standalone Windows installation that runs directly from a flash drive or iPod. Plug in your MojoPac-enabled portable drive into your buddy's PC, launch Windows from it, and use any application or document directly from the drive, no footprint left behind on the host PC. Great for anyone who works on several PC's on a regular basis - or who just wants to separate certain apps and documents from a computer they use - MojoPac is a convenient, portable Windows virtual machine." http://www.lifehacker.com/software/windows/geek-to-live--build-your-pc-on-a-stick-with-mojopac-208338.php

Backups
http://www.langa.com/backups/backups.htm
This is the strategy I use

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog: Biography: John K on
Flintstones Animators
"I love cartoons where you can tell the animators apart. The tricky part is figuring out what names belong to what drawing and animation styles! "The Flintstones" when it runs in syndication, has a stock set of credits on the end of each episode. They list four animators. And, if the names ever agree with the persons who actually animated a particular episode, it's sheer coincidence. And get this... In the early days of Hanna-Barbera, one animator would animate a whole 25 minute cartoon by himself!"
http://www.animationarchive.org/2006/09/biography-john-k-on-flintstones.html

Writing the Perfect Scene
http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/perfect_scene.html
Hard-core fiction-writing structure; I like this scene stuff but I think his snowflake method is loony

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Six-word stories

Catarina.net has a wonderful thread asking people to suggest six-word stories. The lead-off story by Hemingway is poignant, and one of the commenters observes that sad stories seem easier to write in this compressed form. I contributed the history professor story.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Monday-morning lines"

John Sutherland's Guardian article on the contention that some of Shakespeare's worst lines were written the morning after a big drunk is amusing, though it feels kind of rushed into print to fill space on a slow news day. Alhough all of the Macbeth examples were pretty well chosen, it feels as if Sutherland is basing his argument on lines pulled at random from the text; he's making a big statement based on weakly presented evidence.

Still, he does cite Kermode and others who testify to some of the Bard's "crap lines." And I don't doubt that it's true. Running a theatre, acting, and writing plays consumed lots of time and energy, sometimes the muse snoozes, and there's no better way to relax your mind than to leave your workroom and get snockered.

I also assume Shakespeare wrote without benefit of an editor or readers (apart from his fellow actors), and since the canonical texts were largely re-membered by his fellow players, is it beyond the bounds of belief that maybe they threw in a few lines of their own that we now attribute to the Great Man?

The article reminded me of Anthony Burgess' book on Shakespeare, where he says that most everyone in London at that time walked around half-drunk because there was no reliably potable water supply. As a result, they drank the beer, wine, and other fermented beverages that were safer to drink than the water.

Eh--so what? In plays that are so big and sprawling, there are places for odd lines, lazy writing, strange motivation, and lapses in the plot, just as there are places for witches, ghosts, assassinations, passion, and all other things that grab an audience's wayward attention. Shakespeare didn't write well-made plays, he wrote great plays. We shouldn't be surprised that Shakespeare wrote lazy lines now and then; what's surprising is that what he tossed off "without a blot" is still so good and still lives.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Liz cracks me up

We were driving through the miles 'n' miles of shopping center near the 70 and 540 intersection. As we drove down the faux Mayberry Main Street blocks of chain stores, I said, "To think, all that was here before was just trees and unproductive land." Pause. Then Liz said, "And now, it's servicing America."

For whatever reason, that just cracked me up.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Al & Mel's "Lost Girls"

For a man widely described as a recluse and rarely given to interviews, Alan Moore is all over the place. First with "V for Vendetta" and now with "Lost Girls." This page at Top Shelf Comix links to all or most of the interviews he's been giving since the book's release.

Top Shelf reports it's sold out the 1st and 2nd printing, so they're going to a 3rd printing.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Phillips on death

The world without the people who matter to us is not the same world and so not the world at all. Life becomes progressively stranger as we get older - and we become increasingly frantic to keep it familiar, to keep it in order - because people keep changing the world for us by dying out (mourning is better described as orientation, the painful wondering whether it is worth re-placing oneself).

Adam Phillips, Side Effects

Monday, August 07, 2006

Doppelganger

I blogged about my new Honda Fit earlier this summer. Given that I've seen so few Fits in the Durham area, I felt very pleased that I was the only one on my block with a Fit, and an orange one at that.

When Liz and I left the Carolina Theater recently, we walked to the side street where I'd parked the car. (As the offical "new car" in the family, the Fit is the default go-in vehicle for errands and trips.) As we walked, Liz thought she saw a Scion, also orange, parked across the street.

But no--parked directly across the street from my orange Fit was another orange Fit. WTF?!? I thought I was the only one with an orange Fit in Durham! It was spooky, let me tell you. And that neat feeling of being the only kid on the block with a new toy faded quickly away.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Rating my GRE study materials

Part I dealt with how I prepared for the GRE. This is Part II.

  • Flash cards. The best thing I did was create my own flash cards. I used the Princeton Review book as my basis, but any of the books would have done. This made the learning more personal, and I could put page references to the book on the card, in case I needed to refresh my memory. (All of the GRE books seem to not believe in indexes, and the tables of content seem undernourished.) I referred to these when waiting for the bus to take me to class and found myself really liking them. They're a useful tool if you believe in the "little and often" strategy.
  • Sample tests. The best thing about the CDs that come with the practice books are the sample tests. They're timed to resemble the actual test, and the Kaplan and PowerPrep tests mimic the actual interface used on the actual GRE test. It's great rehearsal for what happens. They don't operate exactly the same as the real GRE; the real GRE questions calibrate to your answers, pushing harder questions on you when you answer correctly and easier questions when you get them wrong. But it's good enough so the experience on test day isn't so alien.
  • Practice books. The best tell you what to expect, explain the basics behind the math concepts, and offer sample tests. After you've read about the concepts and the formulas, really the only thing you can do is practice practice practice, and that's the value these books provide. But why in God's name are they so frickin' oversized? What's the idea? The smaller-sized Barron's Passkey book was much friendlier and more portable for just that reason.
  • GRE PowerPrep software and GRE 10th edition book. Written by the makers of the GRE test, the book was OK, but is official orthodoxy and so its rules are not to be taken too literally. The non-ETS books emphasize shortcuts and tactics rather than recommend full-bore seriousness.
    • The first two sample tests in the book are best because they contain answer explanations. I stopped doing the book's tests after that because they did not explain how to derive the math answers--how can I identify what I'm doing wrong unless I'm told where I went off track?
    • The PowerPrep software was OK, but very primitive; it took over the video to render a 640x480 resolution. Fortunately, the sample tests offer explanations and look like the real thing.
    • I believe in 2007 the GRE will debut new test formats and sections, so a lot that's familiar now to the GRE aftermarket may need significant rethinking.
  • Princeton Review book and CD. Rani loaned me these and was complimentary about the book. It's written more irreverently than any of the others, which I liked a lot, and was a good place to start. I actually laughed out loud here and there.
    • No index, and the TOC could be better--good luck finding the section on permutations and combinations. Great answer explanations.
    • The CD is fair; it links to the Princeton website where they try to hook you with offers for more prep and tutoring. Contains 4 sample tests but these do NOT mimic the actual GRE test interface, so a demerit there; no other prep materials, so another demerit.
    • Nevertheless, a good and friendly place to start and I used the book's tactics quite a lot as I worked through the GRE today. It's got a great procedure for handling the quantitative comparison questions, including the best explanation of permutation and combination questions I've read. I also appreciated its templates for the essay questions.
    • The CD sample tests track your scores so you can see how they improve (or decline, in my case) as you progress. I found these scores to be similar to the actual scores I got.
  • Arco. I think this is the name of it (I've already returned it to the library). Fair explanation of math concepts, OK math questions and explanations. Good for extra practice but not serious study.
  • Barrons. I had the big book from the library, which I wound up not using because I ran out of time.
    • However, I bought a smaller trade paper, the Passkey to the GRE, from B&N and found that very useful; it seemed to include most of the important material from its big brother and took up less room in my bag so I could carry it to work and read it at lunch. (The Passkey book does not include a CD.) Its math section condensed all the math facts you needed to know and memorize in one section, which I found myself constantly referring back to when I needed the formula for figuring the area of a trapezoid. 12 points for convenience right there.
    • The Passkey contains 3 sample tests and lots of math practice questions with good explanations. I found the math problems REALLY hard, and they seem to favor really tough geometry figures--find the area of the non-shaded portion of a square filled with four shaded semi-circles, that kind of thing.
    • One of the interesting things about my personal learning process was discovering that sometimes I did way too much calculation, and other times I used shortcuts to get an answer that Barrons would explain in the most elaborate way. It's an odd thing: most of these books say "don't waste time calculating," yet they explain the answers to their questions in ways that involve elaborate calculation.
  • Kaplan 2004 GRE review. Richard at work loaned me this book/CD. Of them all, I'd place this at the top of the heap. The book had great advice, somewhat different from the Princeton book, and I liked reading the differences. For example, Princeton provides sample templates for the essay questions. Kaplan instead recommends writing the body of the essay first, and finishing with the intro and conclusion, which I found to be excellent advice.
    • They also had great test-day advice, such as avoiding coffee, eating lightly, and bringing a small snack to stave hunger.
    • The book contains good explanations of math concepts and good sample questions and vocabulary.
    • The CD is good and bad. It has lots of helpful resources for refreshing yourself on math, including a flashcard program for math and vocabulary, good overview of the basic math strategies, and a diagnostic test that highlights your problem areas so you can create a personalized study plan.
    • The CD includes 3 sample tests that mimic the GRE interface and provide an amazing amount of detail on your test-taking style. For example, after finishing a test, Kaplan shows you the five questions where you spent the longest periods of "think-time" plus whether you answered the question rightly or not, questions where you changed your answer (and whether you switched from incorrect to correct or correct to incorrect), and a brief estimation of your performance.
    • One of the eye-openers for me was its observation that I tended to spend lots of time on questions where taking the time didn't make a difference--I tended to get those questions wrong anyway. This played into how I handled tough questions on the actual test.
    • So lots of great resources are on the CD. Unfortunately, the CD is mired in the worst of late-'90s multimedia production: cutesy animation, overly clever script-writing, plonky music, video snippets of actors giving you test advice, etc. And the UI takes over the monitor--there's no way to skip these damn videos once they start. So to get to the great content, you have to suffer through excruciating UI design. Perhaps the more recent editions are better; I hope so, because the material is excellent.
  • Exambusters GRE study cards. Business card-sized flash cards; probably best for studying vocabulary. I didn't find them as helpful to me as my homemade flash cards and rarely used them.
I learned too late that my local technical college offers a GRE math prep course. Had I known about it beforehand, I'd have surely signed up for it.

But I think there comes a point where, you know, I'm not going to progress much further than where I am right now. When I found myself consistently missing about half of my questions and getting well below 600 on my math questions, I figured that I'd hit the wall. Carbo-loading wasn't going to help. So I hoped to get at least a 580 so I'd meet the minimum grad school requirements. To get 640 exceeded what I dreamed I could do.

My standard reply to this is: the questions must have been easy. But maybe a more uplifting answer is that I was exceptional today -- and lucky.

V:800 Q:640

Tremble before my mighty godlike intellect, puny humans....

Atlastatlastatlastatlastatlast ... After a week and a half of anxiety-producing study, cramming, and practice tests, I took the GRE General test this morning and received the above preliminary verbal and quantitative scores. (The final scores arrive in a few weeks.) My brain is still throbbing from the effort, but moreso from being gob-smacked by my scores, which were way way WAY higher than I expected. (For those who don't know, nor care, the highest scores you can receive are 800.)

Here are my various thoughts on the GRE experience in random order:
  • I really wish I'd started earlier and worked more steadily. I learned through this and a recent oral presentation in class that when i get anxious and nervous, I get mightily distracted from everyday life around me. I need to feel that I'm on top of the situation to feel OK about how things will go. In this case, though I'd started studying in May, by dedicating my Sundays to the cause, it was too much to load onto one day. I should have instead picked sections to work on throughout the week, and dedicated 2 or 3 sessions of math to every one verbal session.
  • Thank goodness for friends who have taken the GRE and saved their prep materials. Mike had taken it earlier this year and felt so unprepared that he said he froze for 10 minutes when he saw the first math problem; he recommended I concentrate on studying the math. Rani and Richard passed along their GRE prep books and accompanying CDs, which came in handy when it was time to do practice tests simulating the GRE experience. I also checked out 2 books from the library and bought a small Barron's Passkey book for the GRE. This was overload, no doubt, but having them close by made me feel better.
  • What helped the most? Making my own flash cards. I used these a lot when riding the bus to school last month. I stopped using them in the last 2 weeks when I turned to the CD-based review tests, but I think now I would have benefited by continuing to test my memory. One of the things that makes the GRE less worrisome is knowing the square root of 3 and knowing on cue what 4/5 is as a decimal and a percentage without having to do the math.
  • My god, I never realized how big the GRE aftermarket is, what with all the books, and online prep, and other materials. I even discovered too late that Durham Tech has a GRE math prep course, which I surely would have taken had I known about it.
  • I didn't worry too much about the essay questions: I had general templates in mind for each type of question and trusted I'd be able to spew usable material when needed, as this is what I do for a living, folks. I think I did pretty well here. My own strategy: using the last 5 minutes to read through the essay and make sure the intro and conclusion line up, and sprinkling keywords throughout that tie everything together.
  • Since my summer class ended, I've spent most of my free time doing GRE math problems and taking the sample tests from the prep CDs. I'd take a GRE book to work and do 10 or 20 problems at lunch. Before I went to bed, I'd take a GRE book downstairs and work a page or two of problems. I was consistently getting about half wrong and half right. This is when it hit me that, you know, I'm only going to get to a certain level of good with this stuff, and that's it. When will knowing the formula for finding the area of a cone ever get me out of a jam? I also finally crystallized why self-discipline is such a self-defeating strategy. Self-discipline requires imposing your will on yourself, and this constant fighting with yourself wears you out. It's just too tiring. But when the goal means something to you, is important to you, self-discipline is not an issue at all. You just do what you have to do and suffer what you have to suffer until it's done, so get on with it. Liz says cancer survivors are the same way; does it take self-discipline to go through chemo? No. You just know that you have to do it, no matter how painful it is. When you're not fighting yourself, I think half the battle is won.
  • Luck is not a bad thing either. There's a great quote from Jimmy Dean that goes, "You should push your luck every day. Because you might be walking around lucky and not know it." On the drive to the testing center, I was going a little too fast and saw a patrolman sitting in the median, pointed in our direction. I moved to tap the brake to turn off the cruise control and tapped the gas instead. (The car is still new to me.) I swerved a bit before I regained control and expected to see flashing lights in my rearview. But no. I continued on my merry way and the cop either didn't see me or didn't care. As I sped along, I thought of Jimmy Dean's quote and smiled to myself. I was walking around lucky today. This occurred to me again during the verbal test; one of the reading comprehension pieces (a test I've not done well on in practice) was on jazz and I enjoyed reading it. What luck, to have a piece on jazz as part of the test. Answering the questions was easy.
  • Liz wanted to see Tres Chicas the night before the test. I left work at noon, worked another practice test (on which I performed abysmally), and walked with her to the concert at American Tobacco. Although my thoughts strayed to the problems of combinations and ratios and percentage comparisons, it was good to get away from the computer, sit in the open air, and just chill. There's more to life than the GRE and at a certain point, I realized I was not going to see major improvements in my math performance even if I worked problems for the next 12 hours straight. So I gave my mind a break and relaxed.
  • On the day of the test, I ate lightly, did treadmill for about 20 minutes, and avoided coffee. I felt pretty good, and there's enough adrenaline anyway that more stimulant isn't needed.
  • Liz and my co-workers will no doubt be relieved that I will now stop obsessing and talking about the GRE.
  • Well...the scores I got flabbergasted me. I honestly didn't think I did that well. The verbal is way, way better than I thought I'd get, and the math is at least 100 points or more over what I expected. I really don't know how it happened, because the questions were at least as difficult as the ones I've been working this past week. On some, I was plainly guessing, going with gut instinct. The Kaplan prep CD keeps lots of statistics on the sample test scores, and one of them that impressed me was that I spent lots of time deliberating on some questions when the final result really didn't matter--I usually spent lots of time on questions I got wrong. So when I felt the time running long, I'd go with my best guess and move on.
  • Lessons learned: Is it possible to logically convince oneself not to worry too much? Or is that hard-wired? I noticed a big decrease in anxiety when I adopted the idea, "Let's assume I'll get into grad school no matter what I score. Let's assume I win." For whatever reason, that cut away a good bit of anxiety. Also: start early and adopt the strategy "little and often." Chip away at this stuff and let understanding grow, if it wants to. Also: maybe I should believe in myself more. On my last two big challenges, I've exceeded what I thought I could do. So perhaps the GRE tested me in ways I hadn't expected.
Part II: Rating my GRE study materials.

Update: The final scores confirmed I got 800 on the verbal, 600 on the math, and 5.5 out of 6 on the two writing prompts.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rules for Computer Use

Mike Shea's latest essay in another in the trend of many of us who are sticking our heads up out of our neatly organized gopher holes to ask, "What was the point again?"

I prefer Copernic Desktop myself, but I really liked his very simple rules for computer use. I especially liked this one:
Don't customize, optimize, or tinker - the result is never worth the effort.

I'm notorious even to myself for tweaking my computer, desktop, folders, etc.

I'd probably add, "Never make any changes to the computer after 11 p.m."

I also like Reinhard's Weekend Luddite system, though I usually need Sunday to back up the PC, run various maintenance programs, etc.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stephen Colbert Commencement Address

Stephen Colbert's 2006 Commencement Address at Knox College
In addition to very good advice I learned in my improv class earlier this year, he adds this:
I have two last pieces of advice. First, being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. And lastly, the best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a doctorate in fine arts for doing jack squat.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Links 2006-05-30

Core Dump
"At first glance, technical writing and Disney don't seem to have much of a connection, but their rides are complex machines, and they do need manuals. Here's the Standard Operating Procedures for Pirates of the Caribbean from 1975. The page has links to scanned images of the manual."

Four Types in ZhurnalWiki
"Someone once told me of a military strategist's way to characterize people along the dimensions of intelligence and motivation:"

7-Zip
ZipCentral
Two freeware alternatives to winzip

No S Diet: No snacks, sweets, seconds, except on days that start with S.
"There are just three rules and one exception:
* No Snacks
* No Sweets
* No Seconds
Except (sometimes) on days that start with 'S'. That's it."
My diet of choice

Very cool illusion


Paper Sculpture - a photoset on Flickr


Erase permanent marker from your dry erase board - Lifehacker
"WikiHow has a simple method for removing permanent marker from dry erase boards:"

Birthday Calculator
Enter your birthdate, click on Submit, and then scroll down for fun statistics and your astrological data (such as your age in dog years, estimated date of conception, the BTUs produced by the candles on your next birthday cake, and so on)

Monday, May 29, 2006

In Our TIme - Faeries

From Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter on the Mythology of Faeries:

Two of the things we missed out this morning might be of interest to you. The first is related from the 13th century chronicle of Gerald of Wales. Gerald of Wales was travelling around Wales preaching the Crusades, and while he did so was chronicling encounters along his way. Fairy mythology tends to track uncertainty, to flare up around times of anxiety, and here it is accompanying the upheaval of the Crusades. Gerald records how on his travels he meets a monk called Eliodorus, who tells him that when he was a child he used to visit the fairies. They were little people (the ones he met were men), vegetarians, and they don’t live the way we do. Gerald is a man who is both very well educated and also extremely proud of this – he is not at all a credulous man, but he relates Eliodorus’ tale in good faith, he doesn’t say ‘I believe in fairies’, but he does accept Eliodorus as an honest educated Christian man relating a true personal experience.

Eliodorus told his mother, who asked him to bring back proof of their existence, to steal something from them and bring it back, so he steals a golden ball from them to take home. The fairies chase him, catch him just before he crosses the boundary to the homestead and steal the golden ball back. They disappear and he never sees them again. This is core tradition for fairy lore – the fairies symbolically are associated with the wild outside, unstructured nature and childhood – they can’t cross his mother’s threshold which represents the structured human adult world, and Eliodorus can’t take the fairy trinket into that world.

Eliodorus says it’s all for the better really that he never saw them again, they had been distracting him from his studies and after this he settled down, concentrated on his studies, and eventually became a monk. Again it is significant that the fairies were distracting him from becoming an adult, from his studies, from serious and sober Christianity.

I was very disappointed not to get round to the Cottingley Fairies. This is a fascinating story which we discussed at some length in the Green Room afterwards. However, the only satisfying way to tell it is to tell it at some length which Nicola Bown told us in preparation for the programme. The Cottingley Fairies concerned a photograph taken during the First World War by a couple of young working class girls. Nicola told me that the original picture was taken in 1917 during the war. There were poems by Rose Fileman published in Punch about fairies, the first with the line ‘there are fairies at the bottom of the garden’, and the next week ‘there used to be fairies in Germany’ – with the implication they had been driven out by the war.

The family of the girls who took the pictures took Punch, so it’s likely the girls were influenced by these. The older girl, Elsie, was working in a photographic studio, so she had the techniques to take the pictures and develop them. She made models on card of fairies and propped them on hatpins and dusted them with chalk to make them seem translucent. They took the photo for their parents, but also because Elsie wanted to take artistic photos, which was common at the time – and that’s where the story should have ended.

About 3 years later Elsie showed an elder woman friend who was a theosophist, who sent the picture to Edmund Gardner, a leading theosophist in London. He took it as proof of his beliefs, took it to a professional trick photographer to authenticate it, and asked him to touch it up for use in a magic lantern show. This is when the perspectives and sizes were changed, and the image we now know came into being. He then took it to Conan Doyle, who had been a spiritualist since his son was killed in WWI. Gardner asked him to publish the picture in The Strand Magazine, where the Holmes stories were published. Conan Doyle agreed, and published them in 1920.

Both men were middle class establishment men, the girls were working class young girls. When Gardner asked the girls for more photos how could they say they made it up? There’s an immediate press furore, the girls are ‘outed’, Elsie loses her job, they spend the rest of their lives tainted by the argument about whether they had attempted to defraud the public. Gardner also made them sign away the copyright on the pictures to him. He was going to be their protector.

In a way the girls have to take the pictures on Gardner’s behalf because of the 19th Century invention of childhood – these stories about innocence, childhood as a special time unsullied by the awful realities of adulthood – so it wouldn’t have worked if the photos had been taken by a middle aged gentleman.

And you might enjoy revisiting a few lines of this by William Allingham, a poem, The Fairies:

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather!
Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home--
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

The rest is mystery.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Links 2006-05-27

Tricks of the Trade: Dishwasher

Microsoft W3rd. Gangsta version of Microsoft Word

Spelling poems.
"Poems showing the absurdities of English spelling."

One Hundred Rules for NASA Project Managers

Preach it, sister

First Draft - If You Are Looking For A Way To Be Against Gay Marriage: "Because while I love freedom and equality and the rule of law, you know what else I love? Pissing off the sanctimonious. That's the ice cream sundae of my world."

[via flutterby, from whom I also stole the title of this post]

Friday, May 26, 2006

Don't believe in God? To hell with ye

Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Fit

Since 1994 when I bought it used, I've driven a 1992 Chevy Lumina. I got it with about 78,000 miles on it, and it last week flipped over 200,000. (Today, it's about 220,218.)

I've toyed over the years with buying a new or used car, but it never seemed the right time: not enough money, shaky job, no job. Recently, though, my job has proven itself to be steady and supportive and my car has over the last year had its water pump, battery, and starter replaced, and new tires are in the near future.

My old boss used to say that you could handle only so many crises at one time and you don't want your car to be one of them. Your car may have to get you out of a crisis, so that's one area of your life that you want taken care of. So, on the grounds that it's best to fix the roof before it starts raining, and seeing that ol' Lumy was going to turn 200K, I decided it was time to get that new car.

I set the parameters for the search as: it would happen in the second quarter of the year; I would go about it in an easy and relaxed manner; I would not let anyone, anything, or any event pressure me into making a quick decision; as much as possible, I wanted a low-haggle deal.

Ramit details his decision-making process in his sprightly new-car rant. I won't go into similar detail here, except to say that after driving used cars all my life, I was ready for a new car with modern safety and convenience features. Airbags! Keyless entry! ABS! Cupholders!

I threw myself into the process by first picking one or two cars to focus on. I started at the library with The Car Book 2006's list of recommended vehicles, moved on to MSN Auto's ratings, Consumer Reports, and other sites and rankings.

The Web has made car-shopping so different from the old days. Information is so plentiful you can drown in it. I find it useful to pick one or two sources at the beginning that I trust, then after I've got the lay of the land, expand my search radius to other sites.

I also wanted a way to track my online searches; this seemed like a perfect time to explore PBWiki. I'd had a free account for a while but hadn't really hit on a use for it; so I took this occasion to create a car-buying page that basically became my online scratchpad, holding the data I collected and ongoing notes as my ideas changed. I found that my del.icio.us account was also extremely helpful in collecting relevant reference links. (Look for the "cars" tags.)

Aside: I found that after I'd decided on a specific car, I really didn't need the PBWiki page anymore for collecting car ideas or links. Instead, it became a page where I recorded ongoing progress and data. I hardly ever refer to the car information now.

My online info gathering eventually rotated around Edmunds.com, especially its terrific user forums. Any car's make and model has its own dedicated forum area and so, in economics parlance, I was a free-rider on the enthusiasm and research of others.

And now--a digression on logic and intuition. At a previous job, one of my managers sent me on a research mission within the company on how our software was perceived; he was particularly interested in anecdotes, he said, even more than raw data. Anecdotes communicated. I found that, as much as MPG ratings mattered, I tended to read more closely the Edmunds.com forum posters, especially on their experiences and their problems. I paid special attention to those people who posted negative points of view and found them very valuable. As a former arts reviewer, I know that when you like something, you tend to gloss over its shortcomings.

I also remember an episode from "The Paper Chase" TV series when it was on Showtime. Prof. Kingsfield corrected a student who was making an incorrect but "logical decision" (this is from memory): "I have spent years trying to make students consider the facts and think logically. But there are certain facts--emotional facts, personal facts--against which the great god Logic is impotent." Emotional facts--I've always liked that concept. Logic has its domain and its uses, but it's not an all-purpose tool; like a knife, it's useful in specific situations and not in others.

In the comments to Ramit's rant, many people dinged him for not acting logically and hewing to his own financial best interests. They seemed to be accusing him of making an emotional, non-fact-based decision, and then backfilling the decision with logic to justify it. I suppose it depends on what you hold to be your highest priorities. It also depends on what facts you consider to be paramount in your decision making.

Psychologists have proven that every decision we make--political, financial, sexual, career--is first and foremost an emotional decision. That's the legacy of our lizard brains. No one can ever render a completely objective decision, because our minds simply don't work that way. Yes, we do use logic to justify our emotional decisions, and then remember or convince ourselves that the decision made logical sense all along.

So, how did I use intuition and logic to help me make a decision? I started out interested in the Scion xB, then heard a few anecdotes from acquaintances about the low-powered automatic version (I don't drive stick, sorry). I then moved to the Honda Element, which is the car whose looks I really liked the most anyway. Read the Edmunds forums and you'll see that its owners love it. LOVE it. I figured I would too--it was such a sharp-looking car. But a friend's mechanic said his customers were disappointed with its low mileage and that stuck with me.

I'd long thought of a compact SUV as being my next vehicle. I'm 6'3", about 220 lbs (as of today--I hope to see it go down soon!), have a tall torso, and wanted a car that I didn't have to crouch or scrunch myself into. I didn't want another sedan.

My intuition told me to try the Element but stay open to other possibilities. At the Honda dealer, I sat in the CR-V--my hair brushed against its roof. No go. In the Element, I had plenty of hair room and it felt like driving in Liz's old Astro van. The Element handled OK, seemed a little underpowered, but it's a 4-cylinder, what did I expect? I didn't get a thrill from driving it though. And the reports from owners that they were averaging about 20 MPG really gave me pause. Three or four years ago, it would have been OK to buy a car with that kind of mileage. But today, with prices nearing $3/gallon, it struck me as irresponsible for me to buy a car that didn't get at least 25 MPG, or better.

(I really didn't consider the Prius or any other hybrid vehicles; I'm sure they're great cars, but they were more expensive and I'm in agreement with their critics who say they don't make financial sense. I know people who love their Prius, and that's great; they made their decisions based on facts that were significant to them.)

I'd defined for myself that my next car would be mainly a commuter vehicle, running errands, the occasional long trip. The salesman steered me to a Honda Fit. It's Honda's "Scion-killer," a subcompact hatchback with estimated 31/37 MPG. Yes, I have to bend down a bit to get in, but the cockpit felt comfy and the car was just fun to drive.

Liz asked me what I meant when I said it was "fun to drive." Sorry -- I can't quantify "fun." But it became a significant personal and emotional fact.

Also, it's MPG ratings and its price impressed me. It's not without problems; the Edmunds forum for the Fit has a couple of threads on overcoming the car's shortcomings. But as others have commented, if you want a Fit with fill-in-the-blank, then buy a Civic or Accord or CR-V or Element or whatever. The Fit is what it is.

I also had to come back to what I'd always said about cars (my cars, anyway): they're boxes on wheels. They get me from here to there. I don't want to get emotional about a box on wheels. However, I also don't want to get angry everytime I fill up the tank. And since I'll be spending significant amounts of time behind the wheel, I do need to be sensible about the box's comfort and amenities.

I only test-drove two cars--the Fit and the Element. I thoroughly researched the Fit, took a second test drive with Liz, and made the emotional decision that this was the car I wanted. It fit my price range, it was fun, it was a counter-intuitive car for me to buy after years of saying I wanted a bigger car, blah blah blah. I think Liz is a little skeptical of the decision since I really didn't drive any Toyotas or other cars (and I have to say the Kias and Hyundais also had some compact SUVs I was interested in). But based on my reading, my thinking, and my emotions, it just felt like the right decision.

At that point, logic kicked in: determine the price, get quotes from various dealers, check insurance rates, etc. Logic is very helpful at that point in the game.

Fortunately or not, the Fit is a low-profit enterprise for Honda and the dealers aren't making very much. They all quoted me the Edmunds True Market Value price for the car, which I'd used as my baseline, and their final prices all clustered very close together. I dealt with these guys via email and it was very pleasant to take time to craft a response and not talk myself into a hole. I know I don't do well in face-to-face dealings, so having the option of email or fax gives my emotions time to calm down so I can think rationally.

So far, the process has indeed been easy and relaxed. I've got my financing and insurance lined up. I've not had to "armor up" to do battle with salesmen, an experience that others look forward to but that I never did. I've not had to factor in any emotional wear and tear to the cost of the vehicle. There are still unknowns, to be sure: how will the seat feel after sitting in it for an hour? Are the headlights properly aimed? Will I miss an armrest?

Now I'm just waiting on the car. Given increasing demand and short supply, waiting for the Fit in my color (Blaze Orange Metallic) may mean waiting till August. My logical self is telling my increasingly antsy emotional self that it's character-building to delay gratification. But it's a hard sell.

Addendum: My Fit arrived on July 27 and I'm really enjoying it. I donated the Lumina to TROSA and that went OK. Before donating the Lumina, it got a good washing at the Durham Ritz car wash; it was the least I could do for a car that served me well for so many years. When I took ownership of the Fit, the business manager said that if you ordered some Fit models today, it might be December before they arrived.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Best paragraph I've read today

At the end of Sam Jardison's list of Top 10 books on cults and religious extremists comes this rather startling plot summary:

"10. The Bible Eyes of fire, seas of blood, rivers of tears, scarlet beasts, plagues of locusts, pealing trumpets, bottomless pits, mass murder and mayhem. Now this is a crazy book."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Poetry Daily: From "Epitaphs"

I like reading Poetry Daily (wish it had a proper RSS feed). I'll sometimes print out poems I like and put them in my Poetry folder to pull out and marvel.

This poem, by Abraham Sutzkever (translated by Jacqueline Osherow) stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of how poetry differs from prose, how brief poems can open vast spaces.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Links - 28 Apr 2006

...accumulated since Easter...

...compiled over the last few weeks, as you can tell from the Easter
links...

Flickr Photo Download: SearsWishbook.1983EC.P408
Ad for a newfangled CD player from the Sears 1983 wishbook

Tricks of the Trade: Philosopher
"How to win any argument"
For those of us who saw "Thank You For Smoking"


Career Calculus

RecipeSource: French Fry Spam Casserole

Technotheory.com - Wallet Efficiency
A recent interest of the efficiency blogosphere

Yahoo! Picks - April 18, 2006
"But the tribulations have only just begun for the marshmallow rabbit. For these brave, sugary little souls, the bunny apocalypse has arrived..."
Peeps Tortures

Asteroid » Easter turducken
"As with traditional turducken, Easter turducken starts from the inside
out. The core is formed with miniature Cadbury cream eggs"
A Cadbury egg, inside a Peep, inside a hollow chocolate bunny -- with photos!

hellokitty psychological test
If you can't trust Hello Kitty,. who can you trust, really?

Don't Click It
Experimental interface, Flash-enabled. Move the mouse around BUT DON'T CLICK. Click and you get told off, kinda.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Le Petomane

Wikipedia's entry on Le Petomane includes this wonderful paragraph:
In the following decade Pujol tried to 'refine' and make his acts 'gentler'; one of his favourite numbers became a rhyme about a farm which he himself composed, and which he punctuated with the usual anal renditions of the animals' sounds. The climax of his act however involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Alan Moore interviews

For a man described in many articles about him as a recluse, Uncle Alan sure granted lots of interviews, mainly in reaction to the V for Vendetta movie (which I enjoyed). Here are some links to interviews I collected. Keep in mind, when you read, that Vendetta artist David Loyd supported the film and was a co-creator of the comics series.

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at COMICON.com: A FOR ALAN, Pt. 1

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at COMICON.com: A FOR ALAN Pt. 2

MTV.com interview
I love how the interview really takes the Devil's Advocate approach: why aren't you thrilled and impressed that your story is now a great big Hollywood movie?

Alan Moore | The A.V. Club

Alan Moore Interview Index
A very decent compendium of interviews from the early 90s onward

Cinescape interview - 'Lost Girls' - Part 1, Part 2
Good longish interview (esp. the second part) on art, pornography, and breakfast cereal. One of the better of the latest round of interviews with AM, as it gets more into philosophy, and less on his gripes with the industry. One of the fanboy comments from the first interview bears repeating here:
Holy crap, you got to interview Alan Moore? And you didn't just spend the whole time peeing your pants and screaming "ALAN MOORE! ALAN MOORE!"? That's what I would've done.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Custom bookplates

Shweet. And expen$ive.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Armchair library

Yep, OK, I'd like one of these in each room of my house, please.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Goethe

From the In Our Time newsletter on the Goethe discussion:

The talk in the Green Room went on for quite a while. Not unexpectedly. We
failed to include a great many of the aspects of Goethe that makes Goethe
Goethe. On the programme itself I pointed out that we said nothing
whatsoever about his work as a scientist, although it was an area in which he
was frustrated at not being recognised as highly as he thought, and some of
his contemporaries thought, he deserved to be. His work on colours, for
instance.

Nor did we go into his almost rabid anti-Christianity. He called it, let us
be polite here, a load of manure. It's not too difficult to see a direct
line to Nietzsche from this one. He hated the symbol of the cross. In fact,
he was quite a good hater. He hated the peasants because they had too much
emotion and not enough intellect and yet, in his early days, the days of
storm and stress, he himself stormed against classicism and stressed the
primacy of passion.

Nor had we time to mention that, despite his well-publicised relationships
with women (and eventually he married the lower class Christiane Vulpius
after she had beaten off Napoleon's army at her front door) he was, by the
standards of the time, remarkably tolerant of homosexuality. He praised the
openness of homosexuals in Rome and there seems to have been evidence of his
own bi-sexuality.

Sarah Colvin observed that one of the reasons there were so few women in
Goethe studies was that when they came across the women he wrote about, they
tended to criticise the way in which the women were portrayed and any
criticism of Goethe was considered to be anathema to the great Goethe
scholarship establishment and they were given the cold shoulder.

This was confirmed by the other two, ie: that there is a halo around Goethe
studies still and you take your PhD in your hands when you attack it. Dan
Wilson, who revealed the darker side of Goethe in Weimar, ie: his treatment
of the peasants and his sending of prisoners onto the battlefields against
the law and the various other authoritarian views he took, was rounded on by
many Goethe scholars and outrage was expressed across that world.

This must come in some way from the need for Weimar to be the other Germany
after the Second World War. Germans quite understandably had to look for
somewhere and someone that represented the opposite of Hitler and Fascism.
They lighted on Goethe and Weimar. Now that that is being seen as a
blemished place (though no comparison whatsoever with the Third Reich), hands
are thrown up in horror.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Friday, April 21, 2006

kirktoons - Busheviks

Sublime satire -- can't be bettered.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Orson Welles on art & remembrance

Courtesy Netflix, I saw Orson Welles' F for Fake, a fascinating document. I saw it, listened to the commentaries, and saw it again. It's a dense, layered, rich lasagna that uses fakery to talk about fakery. It has some bravura editing for the time (1974 or 1976, sources vary) and includes some very personal Wellesian material.

The Wikipedia page on F for Fake includes this wonderful passage from the film, where Welles muses on the anonymous artists and craftsmen who built Chartres Cathedral.

Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust; to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades, or a millennium or two, but everything must fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash: the triumphs and the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life... we're going to die. 'Be of good heart,' cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced - but what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Where do your taxes go?

Enter the amount of tax you paid into the National Priorities Project's interactive tax chart and see.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Real-world "Mission Statements"

Merlin put up a post on the 43folders Board called Real-world "Mission Statements:" What's yours?, wherein he asks people to submit their real mission statements, as opposed to the goody-goody elevate-yourself statements we're always told to write.

Mine is reply #11.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Links: Power and cyborgs

Caterina.net: Power reveals
"Power reveals. When a leader gets enough power, when he doesn't need anybody anymore--when he's president of the United States or CEO of a major corporation--then we can see how he always wanted to treat people, and we can also see--by watching what he does with his power--what he wanted to accomplish all along."


The Cyborg Name Decoder
Mine is M.I.C.H.A.E.L.: Mechanical Intelligent Construct Hardwired for Assassination and Efficient Learning

tinfoil.com - Early Recorded Sounds & Wax Cylinders

You are about to enter the delightfully low-tech world of early recorded sound.

Whether you are a newcomer or old-hand to old, old-time recordings, you'll enjoy this voyage into the wonderful sounds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Don Quixote

Another In Our Time newsletter, this one on Don Quixote (a book I've tried reading a couple of times and just can't get through):

Well, James Naughtie has put his foot among the pigeons. How do you pronounce Don Quixote? I pronounced it in the English fashion and had there been any objections from the academics who so sturdily spoke about the knight errant this morning, I would have asked them whether any other pronunciation would have made the word 'quixotic' redundant.

For your information, we spoke to Edwin Williamson prior to the programme (who was tremendous in encapsulating the biography of Don Quixote), on the pronunciation of Don Quixote. He pointed out that Don Quixote is an archaic Spanish spelling that has now fallen out of use. The Spanish now spell and pronounce it as 'Don Quijote' ie. don-key-hoe-tee.

However, Don Quixote has always been a highly international piece of literature. The Italians have always pronounced it 'don-key-show-tay'; the French have always pronounced it as 'don-key-sho-ta'; and the English have always traditionally pronounced it as 'don–quix-ot'.

The adoption of the Spanish pronunciation in the English language has only appeared with the wide inclusion of the book onto the undergraduate curriculum in many American Universities over the last 20 to 30 years. The vast majority of English academics still refer to the book in the old English pronunciation 'don-quix-ot' out of habit and in recognition of the book's status as an international classic.

So there we are on that one.

There was much commendation of Cervantes' masterpiece on this morning's programme, but in one of Barry Ife's articles about the book, he included a review by Martin Amis. I think this may entertain you. "In March 1986, Amis reviewed a reprint of Tobias Smollett's translation of Don Quijote for the Atlantic Monthly, and he characteristically took the opportunity to get one or two things off his chest. 'While clearly an impregnable masterpiece,' he wrote, 'Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw – that of outright unreadability.' For long stretches (approaching about 75 per cent of the whole) it is 'inhumanly dull'. This epic is epic in length only, he argues; 'it has no pace, no drive...it simply accrues. The question "what happens next?" has no meaning because there is no "next" in Don Quixote's world: there is only "more".

Warming to his task, Amis goes on to describe the first 20 chapters or so as 'squalid, savage and attritional' as the knight, impelled by 'madness and high ambition', and the squire, by 'stupidity and greed', beat up sundry innocent carriers and other passers-by in the pursuit of wrongs to right. Unprovoked except by chivalric paranoia, Don Quixote tries to murder a Biscayan traveller, gets involved in a brawl in an inn, chops up 'about seven' little lambs during an attack on a flock of sheep, and 'continuing on his sociopathic way' assails some defenceless mourners, robs a barber, pummels an itinerant prison guard, and frees a band of convicts. At this point, says Amis, it dawns on the reader that there are still 700 pages to go."

So Don Quixote not only still stirs the blood, but it stirs the mind of writers.

One of the things I most appreciated was the life he had led. Not wholly unlike that of Chaucer. It is something that we may return to – the connection between the life of a writer (and other artists too, I'm sure) and the work. Nowadays we seem to be consumed with the idea of the lone or specialist writer, setting up tower on his or her own from the very beginning. Here with Cervantes we have a man who would probably have described himself, until late in life, as a professional soldier who finally turned to writing to scrape a living.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Charlemagne and writing

Some of the scholarly chat programs on BBC4 radio have their own newsletters, as most media do nowadays. I enjoy downloading the latest In Our Time program each week and subscribe to host Melvyn Bragg's newsletter, where he adds his own thoughts on that week's topic and provides little scholarly nuggets that didn't make it into the show.

It seems a shame not to share some of them, so here's what his newsletter contained on the Charlemagne program.


Nevertheless, I was fascinated to read about handwriting and classical manuscripts. In her notes made for the programme, Mary Garrison told us that when Charlemagne started, the level of Latin learning was so low that he needed the English and Irish, who were not native speakers of Latin, to help with Latin texts and learning. They were the ones who said “this is how you spell it; this is how you pronounce it”. So there was a huge change in the literary record and the pronunciation. In terms of literacy (the schoolmasterly type) Charlemagne and Alcuin said you must put spaces between the words, you must use neat handwriting, you must spell things correctly. A new form of handwriting was introduced, and a new way of pronouncing Latin, which hastened the split between Latin and the vernacular – some people hate Alcuin for that reason. It was much as if you or I went to France and said any word that ends in ‘er’ where you would pronounce ‘a’ you now have to pronounce ‘ayr’. But this change in pronunciation is a big thing – it has to do with getting it right.

I was delighted to re-encounter Alcuin whom I first met 47 years ago at university and became reacquainted with when I wrote a novel set in the less & less called “Dark Ages”. The power of the few men who worked in Lindisfarne and Jarrow in the time of what could be called the Northumbrian Renaissance – the Lindisfarne Gospels, the works of Bede and then the passing on of learning to Boniface who became an advisor to Charlemagne’s grandfather and then to the great Alcuin himself. Again and again you find that if a cultural force is strong enough, it does not have to be particularly big to have a most tremendous influence. I always think there’s something romantic and even noble about these men, usually Celts, always monks, who took their learning and their Christianity deep into Europe after having developed it on islands around Britain.

This is some more information about Alcuin that I want to put your way. In fact, I think we should come back to him in a year or so and do a full programme on him. Julia Smith told us that Alcuin (735-804) was at the centre of theological debates at Charlemagne’s court about revising and editing new versions of the Bible. Alcuin had a vision that Classical learning composed the pillars that held up the temple of wisdom, it was a means to achieving higher ends. To this extent, he was especially passionate in advocating a return to Classical standards of Latin grammar and did much to train the successive generation of scholars in writing good Latin. Alcuin’s achievement in asserting a correct Latin was an impressive one, given that vast areas of the southern Carolingian empire (the North was German speaking) still spoke a romance Latin and considered themselves perfectly proficient (although of course theirs was a corrupt version). Alcuin succeeded in teaching Latin to these people as a foreign language, a language which many felt that they had been speaking since infancy.

His was not the most original of minds at court, but he had a beautiful skill for condensing complex patristic texts and summarising them in accessible form. He was adept at repackaging the thought of men like Augustine (theologian, 354-430), Jerome (theologian, 347-420), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan, 340-397) and Gregory the Great (Pope who lived 540-604); in mediating between the patristic thought of the late antique period and the less learned readers of his own day. Alcuin wrote digests, rather than commentaries, for it was generally assumed that most members of the church would not want to read the original works or be capable of doing so.

One discussion in the Green Room was what would have happened had Bede had assistance and, as it were, research scholars to work with him. Mary Garrison suggested that his work on tides, for instance, could have been developed to the advancement of science almost a thousand years before Newton! Some claim, but housed on Lindisfarne, he was well-positioned to watch and calculate the tides which sweep across the causeway and swirl dramatically around Holy Island.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Linksalot

Damn Interesting » Tin Foil Hats Proven Ineffective

Shakespearean Insult Generator

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages
My notes from a demo I gave to a local STC SIG

Grand Illustions - Toy Collection - Dragon Illusion
"This little dragon is made out of paper - you simply cut it out and stick it together, and stand it on a table or window ledge. But when you move around, the dragon's head seems to follow you around the room. Have a look at the video, to see what we mean. The effect is really uncanny."

A Unique Gift! Your Own Optical Illusion! - Turn Your Head
"Your profile captured forever in an object of art. "

Fight the Corporate Bull with Bullfighter - Lifehacker
"It will scan your documents for over-utilization use of jargon synergy while at the same time increasing your ROI suggesting alternatives that cut the corporate business BS from your documents:"

PowerSquid roomy power strip - Lifehacker

William Shatner DVD Club
Yet another great offer I'll have to pass up.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages

Here's my first Backpack page that I created for a SIG meeting today. It describes how to create a feed from feedless web pages. It's a nice all-in-one page.

Backpack is great for presenting this kind of information and I was quite amazed at how quickly I could produce some nice-looking text modules, reorganize them, and so on.

For speed of page creation though, I like my PBWiki a little better.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Advertising and its Discontented

Danny Gregory is running a great series on his site called Advertising and its Discontents. This first story, by Trevor Romain about why he left advertising, packs a wallop. We all want to matter.

Charity Larrison's story probably reflects the experience of most of us: drifting along, still trying to figure it all out.

"A common destination with room for all"

Scott's friend Chrystal has a nicearticle on religious choices.
My family is a perfect example of American religious diversity. Two parents had five daughters and, as of this writing, none share a common religion. We have a Catholic, a goddess-worshipping Wiccan, one three-quarters of the way to Buddhist nunhood (complete with shaved head!), one Mormon, and one Unitarian. The final member attends a Baptist church, but once they formed gay unions, other Baptists quarreled about the church’s designation. So far we have no Muslims or Jews, but the week is young—who knows what the future holds?

Modest Change 3: Exercise

For the past decade or more, I've fumbled around for an exercise program I could stick with. Given my size (6'3" and about 215 lbs, as of this writing), I'll need to be strong and flexible as I get older. Otherwise, the nurses helping me out of my elderly bed will have to be pretty strong or have a pulley and gurney handy.

Exercise clubs have not worked for me. I like yoga but feel I need more resistance and cardio training. I've cobbled together workouts from Joyce Vedral, Body for Life, Men's Health, and many other books and websites.

Two books came my way recently that changed my attitude to exercising and have provided me a very good workoout that energizes but doesn't fatigue.

The first, which I saw at the library, was Five Factor Fitness by Harley Pasternak. It promises a lot and mostly delivers, despite its rather gimmicky "5" theme: a 25-minute daily workout, done 5 days/week, 5 meals a day, and a set of recipes with meals containing only 5 ingredients.

What attracted me was the book's modest size (the recipes take up about half of the book) and the modest time requirements; although he advertises 25 minutes, it's really more like 35, but that's OK, that's doable. I also like the balance in the workouts. He recommends only 2 weight-lifting exercises per workout using dumbells, which are my tool of choice and all I've used the last several years. His routine emphasizes low-intensity lifting, with low weights but more sets and reps. The workout requires at least 5 minutes on the treadmill at the beginning and end of the routine, getting your heart rate up to its optimal workout zone for at least 5 minutes the second time, and an abdominal ("core") exercise, which is also high rep and multiple sets.

What I like about the workout is that the goal is not to push yourself to exhaustion, as seems to be the case with all the other routines that promise a quick 6- or 12-week turnaround. At the end of my previous hour-long workouts, I'd be fatigued and sore and would really have to drag myself to the next workout. By contrast, the 5-Factor workout leaves my arms and legs pleasantly buzzing with energy. When I was doing my workouts in the morning, I felt energized for the rest of the day. My earlier wake-up time has pushed my exercising to the afternoon, but it's short enough that it's done and I'm showered before supper.

But while perusing the Amazon comments for the book, I ran across Cal Dougherty's review (and his other fitness book reviews) where he cites a book called Joe X by Avery Hunnicutt.

Joe X is one of those books that couches its lessons in the form of a novel and dialogue between a mentor and a novice. It's a form I find tedious in the extreme. Although many Amazon reviewers liked the novel, I skimmed through it to get to the nuggets of fitness philosophy I was interested in. (And the good stuff is all recapitulated at the end of the book in an appendix.)

Hunnicutt advocates going light on resistance, paying attention to your body, raise the weight for one exercise only and then only minimally, and look at this as a 30-year or even 40-year fitness plan instead of as a 12-week full-body turnaround.

So, I've adapted aspects of both of these books. I follow the 5 Factor plan because I've learned my body likes to be exercised regularly and the routines offer enough variety and challenge that I haven't tired of it so far. From Joe X, I've taken on the idea of low-resistance weights and keeping my eye on the long haul.

For the past 4 or 5 weeks, I've been using only 5-lb. weights, which I would have laughed at before. I bought 25- and 30-lb weights a few years ago because I felt my chest and back needed more resistance. I don't believe that anymore. It's more important to me now to establish the habit and routine of regular exercise rather than taking my muscles to failure.

The blend of these two approaches is, for me, a modest change in my exercising that's yielded enormous benefit. I feel good physically, my sleep patterns have become more regular, and my moods have evened out--the latter is another reason that regular exercise is good for me, as I tend to be sedentary.


Modest Change 2: Keeping time

I was, for some reason, totally taken by Thomas Limoncelli's book Time Management for System Administrators. (TM4SA, for short).

I read the sample chapter he had online here, and bought the book to see what the rest was about.

I've picked up and put down many a time management system over the years, starting with Day-Timers and finishing most successfully with David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. Limoncelli's system doesn't quite displace GTD, but he has for the first time really helped me gain some traction on my task management.

I won't detail here what his system is, as the link above describes the main system pretty well. The book is written for someone who's really never used a time management system before and probably can't understand office life or office politics all that well.

I bought an At-a-Glance 2006 Daily Planning diary to implement the scheme and this has worked pretty well so far. I find myself not really noting much in the Notes or To-Dos sections; I have other home and office systems to log those things. But I do note in the planner book what I hope to accomplish each day or night of the week, and when I review my lists of Active Projects, I make sure each one has a next action written down for a specific day. (It was all to easy for tasks to stay on my GTD context lists and never move; by physically writing them down, I'm forced to confront them and make them move.)

One of TM4SA's key recommendations is that you write down what you want to accomplish each day and transfer undone tasks to the next day or some day in the future. This rankles lots of GTD purists and I understand it. On a bad day, you'll have to transfer most everything forward. But on a good day, you'll get most everything done and there's relatively few tasks to move forward.

TM4SA also recommends estimating about how long each task will take. This has really helped me figure out what I can realistically get to in an evening and so not overbook myself with ridiculously fabuloso projects or commitments when really all I have time to do is write my 1000 words and read. I've found that I really can't do all that I want when I have an evening free--instead, I have to prioritize and choose and do. Which is what time and task management is all about.

Modest Change 1: Early to Rise

Earlier this year, Merlin suggested that, instead of resolutions and big efforts, people implement fresh starts and modest changes. Here's the first of three posts about some modest changes I've made that have yielded some good benefits.

I've long known that about 70% of my problems would disappear if I just got up a little earlier. I went through a period last month where I was waking earlier than I wanted. Someone in the office suggested I just come in early like a few others of my officemates do and start logging my time. The very next day, I awoke at about 4 a.m. So I got up and made it into the office by 6:30.

My God, the quiet. I sat and focused on my project and got a good chunk done before lunchtime. And I got another good chunk done before I left for the day. I was quietly shocked at how well this weird new behavior worked.

Because we're cursed to work 9-hour days, I previously was getting in at 9 a.m. and leaving about 6 or 6:30 p.m., thus beating the rush-hour traffic both ways. Now, getting in at 7:30 a.m., there's still some rush-rush on the highways, but there's enough time at the end of the day to do my workout and have an evening of relative leisure, instead of cramming a gallon of stuff into a pint pot.

Accepting this behavior means letting go of treasured descriptions of myself as a night owl, as someone who'd rather stay up late than go to bed early. Well, that's still the case. I still prefer staying up late. But the reality of my working life dictates that early-rising more than repays the effort.

I've been able to stick with this schedule rather easily and will continue to do so. If I need to work late, it's fairly painless to stay another hour or two and log some extra time. And, I should note, I've not been troubled by early rising since sticking to my new schedule.

YouTube - Alan Moore Interview

A kindly someone has posted this BBC Two Alan Moore Interview that was broadcast March 9, 2006. The first few minutes look marvelous. If only YouTube would play the whole thing without dropping out ...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Links: Business card cubes, more tech/less work

Ned Batchelder: How to make business card cubes
Making cubes out of business cards is easy, and will impress your friends!

Wired News: Work More, Do Less With Tech
"Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Links: Clipmarks, screensaver, quantum computing, & personality tests

Clipmarks | What Is Clipmarks?
"Manage the stuff you find on the web
With the Clipmarks toolbar you can clip, tag and save snippets of content from the web, without having to bookmark whole pages. Then sign in to clipmarks.com from any computer to organize your collection."
(the clips stay on the clipmarks server, so you don't have to store them locally. a busy ui, potentially useful)

Download Free Screensaver - Holding Pattern
"Holding Pattern turns your idle computer screen into an airplane window, complete with a moving aerial view. Each time the screensaver plays a unique sequence."

New Scientist: Quantum computer works best switched off - News

Interactive Johari Window - Mapping Personality Visibility
"The Johari Window was invented by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the 1950s as a model for mapping personality awareness. By describing yourself from a fixed list of adjectives, then asking your friends and colleagues to describe you from the same list, a grid of overlap and difference can be built up.

and on the flip side...

The Nohari Window - Personality Flaw Map
"The Nohari Window is a challenging inversion of the Johari Window, using antonyms of the original words. By describing your failings from a fixed list of adjectives, then asking your friends and colleagues to describe you from the same list, a grid of perceived and unrecognised weaknesses can be explored."