Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Getting things done

I reached my limit this summer: too many things to do, too many emails in my inbox, too many meetings (I'm now Vice Chair of our faculty organization; basically the campus senate), and too many things not getting done. And this is summer; it will only get worse as the school year starts. So, thanks to Merlin Mann's 43 Folders web site, I got turned on to Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. The author's methods are great for me, focusing on workflow practices that can support better productivity. More than just being productivity focused, Allen emphasizes practices that remove stress from one's life, by removing the need to remember all the little things you need to do (it's all in the workflow system) and allowing you to determine what you can't do (thus removing them from your system and out of mind). His approach builds in the idea of context: labeling each task by the location or work mode in which it can be done, so you're never looking at tasks that aren't possible to do right now. I'm still in the process of grinding through my many piles and files for tasks to enter into the system, but I highly recommend this book.

One thing that has helped me implement this approach has been some very useful software. You can look through Merlin Mann's web site, or the lifehacker web site, for the tools that fit you best. I've found three tools that work for me:

  1. I like simplicity, portability, and universality. That's one of the reasons I like LaTeX for writing: all of my files are plain text and so I never have to worry about having stuff trapped into obsolete or incompatible formats. That's why I love the todo.txt software, which manages plain-text task lists. There's an increasing amount of community-contributed software that provides various capabilities, including my own software for managing lists of project-related tasks.
  2. GeekTool lets me put the output of various todo.txt programs on my desktop; it also allows me to quickly switch the display for different work contexts.
  3. A great app that implements a "tickler" system in Apple's Mail program is GTDMail. It is an Applescript that creates a set of tickler folders: one for each day over the next month and one for each month of the year. You set up iCal to run the script each morning, and it moves the items from today's folder(s) (the current date and the current month) to a "@INBOX" folder. I modified the target folder to "@ACTION" and added "@READ-REVIEW" and "@WAITING FOR" folders. So now I can process all of my emails within seconds according to Allen's workflow.

I feel better already.

Topics: , , , .

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Astrologers rescue Pluto

I can't tell you how happy I was to see the front page article linked from the title above in today's Seattle Times. However, I was able to express myself to the newspaper's editors:

To the Editor:

Thank you very much for your much-needed front page injection of superstition and ignorance into the scientific debate over the modern definition of the word "planet" ("Boot Pluto? Astrology's dismay off the charts", Saturday, August 26, 2006). The sidebar listing astrology "facts" was an especially nice touch. What's next? Reaction from bloodletters on the latest cancer treatments? You do your profession proud!


Michael Stiber

Thursday, August 24, 2006

US Department of Education vanishes evolution

The title above links to a New York Times article describing how a US Dept. of Education grant program in which evolutionary biology is conspicuously missing. You can look at the document in question here; evolutionary biology should be CIP code 26.1303 on page 7. Instead, there is a blank line. DOE spokespeople are saying that it was a clerical error. The interesting thing is that there are some places in the document (such as where evolutionary biology should be) where a number is skipped and there is a blank line, and there are some places where a number is skipped and there is no blank line. It appears that, in the latter case, the skipped CIP codes don't exist, while the blank lines in the former case indicate that a CIP code was purposefully deleted (though there are some blank lines where there is no CIP code). There are only two blank lines that correspond to deleted codes: 26.0908 (Exercise Physiology) and 26.1303 (Evolutionary Biology). (You can look up CIP codes here.) If we assume that these edits both were done in the same fashion, then this would seem to support the idea that evolutionary biology was purposefully, not accidentally, deleted. Topics: ,,.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Travel photo of the week

Farm and hills
Originally uploaded by stiber.
For those unfamiliar with the area, this is what the South Dakota badlands might look like if the climate there was wet and warm.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

$4 per gallon

I've listened to oil company folks try to explain that their recent obscene profits were a result of high oil prices, and that the high oil prices result in high gas prices. Now, it might make sense that high oil prices produce high consumer prices for refined products. But, in every other manufacturing industry, when the price of raw materials goes up, profits get squeezed. Why isn't that the case in the oil industry? Because they also produce the raw materials, that's why. Now, with Alaska production shutting down, they're talking about $4 per gallon gasoline on the west coast. I wouldn't be surprised to see $4 per gallon nationwide by the end of the year. And even higher profits for the oil industry. Meanwhile, George and Dick and their industry pals are laughing their asses off.

The price of gas doesn't bother me all that much by itself; I don't have a long commute, and bike in good weather. What pisses me off is that there is no alternative to burning gasoline. A plug-in electric car would make sense for my family as a second car; it would allow us to cut down on fuel consumption. But there is no practical, plug-in electric available. Commuter Cars Corporation sells in interesting kit car, called the "Tango", but it costs $108,000! DaimlerChrysler sells prettified golf carts. Mitsubishi and Subaru are talking about maybe a 2010 model year introduction. Anyone want to guess what gas will cost then?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Rosa 'Climbing Iceberg'

Rosa 'Climbing Iceberg'
Originally uploaded by stiber.
Here's a photo from this past spring. It reminds me that, now that the plant has mostly finished its first flush of flowering (yes, more than two months' worth), it's time to apply fertilizer. See the Pacific Northwest Gardening Calendar for more garden reminders.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Funny comment

Linked from above, this comment to the Engadget article on rumors of an Apple iPhone is hilarious:

Even Apple rumors have a better function and design than Microsoft.