26 December 2006

Link of the day: Open peer review and bad referees

Over at Biocurious, Phillip writes about open peer review at Nature and PLoS. On the Reference Frame, Tommy Anderberg discusses peer review in general and complains about poor treatment from referees.

18 December 2006

Quote of the day: A few choice words of Paul Graham

From Paul Graham's essay "Ideas for startups":
What happens when your mind wanders? It may be like doodling. Most people have characteristic ways of doodling. This habit is unconscious, but not random: I found my doodles changed after I started studying painting. I started to make the kind of gestures I'd make if I were drawing from life. They were atoms of drawing, but arranged randomly.
From Paul Graham's essay "What Business Can Learn From Open Source":
Business still reflects an older model, exemplified by the French word for working: travailler. It has an English cousin, travail, and what it means is torture [2] ...
[2] It derives from the late Latin trepalium, a torture device so called because it consisted of three stakes. I don't know how the stakes were used. "Travel" has the same root.
From Paul Graham's essay "How to start a startup":
People who don't want to get dragged into some kind of work often develop a protective incompetence at it. Paul Erdos was particularly good at this. By seeming unable even to cut a grapefruit in half (let alone go to the store and buy one), he forced other people to do such things for him, leaving all his time free for math. Erdos was an extreme case, but most husbands use the same trick to some degree.

17 December 2006

Link of the day: Paul Graham essay collection

Paul Graham has written a collection of 50+ essays on wide-ranging intellectual topics. He's made his living programming and doing seed funding, but he apparently dabbles in many other areas like art and philosophy.

I haven't had time to read all the essays, but here are a few I like: "Copy What You Like", "How To Do What You Love", and "Good and Bad Procrastination".

I find it interesting to hear what computer scientists and programmers think of difficult, creative, intellectual work.

Link of the day: Hamming on "You and your research"

Once in a while, I stumble upon a really insightful essay about how to do great research. I found this transcript of a talk by Richard Hamming (the famous information theorist who gave us the namesakes "hamming window" and "hamming distance"). One particularly interesting point is that Hamming says you need to manage yourself and exploit your strengths and weaknesses. This idea connects back to my previous post about lifehacks being like "soft paternalism."

08 December 2006

Link of the day: Soft paternalism

On 43Folders, Merlin Mann has a very interesting insight: life hacks are like the idea of "soft paternalism" described in this New York Times magazine article.

In other words, the gist of many life hacks is to shape your external world in order to prevent your wanton, short-term thinking self from dictating your actions.

03 December 2006

What I learned from David Allen

I just finished reading David Allen's famous book "Getting Things Done".

Fortunately, I am already doing most of the things David talks about, just because of my natural habits and because I've been reading 43Folders.

I want to note the new ideas I learned from finally sitting down and reading David's book.
  1. Top item first - Don't "emergency" sort, that is, pick and choose what you feel like doing first. Work systematically from top to bottom, which enforces discipline.
  2. Embracing the concept of next-action - I'm really good at getting to "inbox zero", i.e. plowing through all my emails down to a near empty inbox. But I'm bad at doing my real work. So I should make a list of next-actions and plough through them just like they are email. The part that gets me really hung up is trying to do something unbounded. "Solve research problem" is not a next-action, but "try to derive X for 1 hour" is a doable next-action.
  3. Really doing the weekly review - This means going through all lists (projects, waiting-for, next-actions) and organizing them so that you have a strategic plan for next week
  4. Higher order planning - David calls nitty-gritty planning "runway" and "10,000 ft." Career goals, life goals, etc are at 30,000 and 50,000 ft. I've gotten proficient at "runway" stuff so now I need to integrate higher order goals into my plans.

02 December 2006

Electronic GTD: Using Backpack

I've finally decided to implement a unified GTD system. Before, I would keep some lists in text files, blog about some goals, use a checklist, etc. Backpack was highly recommended by many GTDers. I tried it and am very happy with it. Backpack is basically a web-based personal management system. You keep a collection of webpages. The webpages can be filled with lists, dated notes, links, images, and files. It's a little bit like a blog but private and more specific to planning.

So far I have four pages. 1) Home page - contains next-actions, 2) @projects - mix of project ideas and next-actions for them, 3) @waiting-for - nothing in here yet, 4) @someday - stuff I'd like to do someday when I have time, 5) Weekly review - log of what I've accomplished this week, what I need to work on based on this week's performance, and plans for next week.