Posts Tagged ‘Daring Fireball’

As John Gruber at Daring Fireball says, “Heads-up displays and augmented reality are coming, no doubt. But a lot of the people who are excited about it today seem to be men with very troubling issues.”

I’m sure this is intended to seem cool, but this guy doesn’t even sound like a real person. I’m also reminded of the villain from the third episode of the new season of Sherlock.

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As I have tried to get some writing done this summer, I have often thought back to an essay I read nearly three years ago (via Daring Fireball) dealing with what the author, Paul Graham, called “the top idea in your mind.” He described it like this:

I realized recently that what one thinks about in the shower in the morning is more important than I’d thought. I knew it was a good time to have ideas. Now I’d go further: now I’d say it’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.

Everyone who’s worked on difficult problems is probably familiar with the phenomenon of working hard to figure something out, failing, and then suddenly seeing the answer a bit later while doing something else. There’s a kind of thinking you do without trying to. I’m increasingly convinced this type of thinking is not merely helpful in solving hard problems, but necessary. The tricky part is, you can only control it indirectly. [1]

I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.

In college I typically wrote papers at the last minute but I did not start them at the last minute. Instead, I would often spend a period of days in which a particular assignment was the top idea in my mind. Ideas about the paper or its organization might come to me during breakfast, in other classes, or, I suppose, in the shower. As these ideas came to me I would write them down somewhere and when the time came to actually sit down and write the paper I already had an idea of what I wanted to say.

There is a crucial difference in my own experiences writing papers as a college student and sitting down to write a paper having never thought about it. In discussions with students about writing I try to emphasize that this work takes very little effort but can make the writing process much easier. Essentially, thinking about a paper “counts” as working on the paper, even if no writing is being done. Far too many students seem to sit down and start writing without having grappled with the issues they plan to address or how they plan to organize their thoughts. The result is work that may have all of the parts that the assignment asks for, but lacks cohesion or depth.

Faculty members are not immune to these problems. One of the difficulties I have faced in writing during the academic year is related to the fact that teaching is almost always the top idea in my mind during these time periods. I still have a hard time transitioning from teaching to research. I have actually had a fairly productive summer in terms of writing, but this productivity has slowed considerably since I started teaching a summer course a few weeks ago. Once again, teaching is the top idea in my mind.  Unfortunately, Graham’s solution isn’t much help to me (or others who work at institutions that prioritize teaching):

You can’t directly control where your thoughts drift. If you’re controlling them, they’re not drifting. But you can control them indirectly, by controlling what situations you let yourself get into. That has been the lesson for me: be careful what you let become critical to you. Try to get yourself into situations where the most urgent problems are ones you want to think about.

Interestingly, this idea explains why I have a hard time writing as well as why those at research institutions may have a hard time teaching. In each case, the top idea in our minds is the thing that is most important for our continued employment.

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Although I can’t find the original date of publication, this comic nicely sums up the current state of the economy:

Via: Daring Fireball

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Lots of people seem to have trouble with focus these days.  From kids texting, tweeting, posting racist comments on the internet, and yelling racist comments into the microphone of their online gaming system of choice to graduate students texting, tweeting, reading for comps, decrying racist comments on the internet, and updating their Facebook status while driving down the freeway, the world is constantly calling for our attention.  In response, those of us who want to get something done have to fight our chronic procrastination, often through attempts to minimize distractions.  Some have employed programs that limit web access while others have tried to recreate the Doogie Howser-esque writing environment of WordPerfect 5.1.

Now, there is another option.

As the developers state, “It’s a distraction-free writing environment that we call “ū—” (pron. “YOOOoooouuuuu…”). And, it’s going to change the way you think about thinking about maybe writing some day forever.”  This unprecedented freedom from distraction is achieved by a careful elimination of nearly everything, “including cruft like paragraphs, lines, and words. This is why ū— only displays the bottom half of one letter at a time. Talk about focus.”

Beyond the ability to focus, the developers recognize that what sets one program apart from another these days is customization.  This is where ū— prevails, offering an “endlessly re-customized combination of options” that includes the ability to:

  • Play non-distracting circus music every time you manage to finish a word
  • Enjoy the minty “DONNNNNNNNG!!!” of a distraction-free wind chime every 60 seconds—just to remind you that you’re really “in the zone”
  • Stay in non-stop touch with The Distraction-Free Community by showing distraction-free real-time Facebook and Twitter updates from your fellow ū—sers
  • Set which affirmations you’d like our lovable “Focus the Clown” to scream at you by random intervals. He’s focus-larious!
  • Set the “Angry Masturbation Break” timer to whatever interval suits you and your distraction-free genitals.
  • Say sayonara to the tick-tock of that distracting clock; “Tojo the Time-Teller” will announce the exact time every seven seconds, occasionally offering distraction-free encouragements in distraction-free pidgin English
  • Ask “Virtual Hemingway” to silently monitor everything you do and suggest when it’s time to try a new customized distraction-freeing setting. But, watch out! He might shoot your distractions and put them on his wall! Ha ha.

With this sort of customization at your disposal, how can ū— go wrong?  Your dissertation will be finished in no time!

Via Daring Fireball and Crooked Timber, which suspiciously quotes the same text as Daring Fireball…

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Literally, a Web Log: Figuratively tearing your writing apart.

Via Daring Fireball

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John Gruber on the glut of middle managers at Microsoft:

They’ve evolved a powerful, deep bureaucracy that has lost any sort of focus on creating great products. Worse, for obvious reasons Microsoft’s management is unlikely to see itself as the problem. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

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On Tuesday Maureen Dowd published one of the worst interviews I’ve ever seen, in that she conducted an in-person interview with the creators of Twitter that read like a poorly-conducted e-mail interview (where all of the questions are predetermined and there is no possibility for follow-up).  Her position is evident in her column when she writes before the interview, “I sat down with Biz Stone, 35, and Evan Williams, 37, and asked them to justify themselves.”  Apparently, all of the people using Twitter are not justification enough.  Thankfully, Stone and Williams gave hilarious answers to Dowd’s stupid questions.  A sample:

ME: I heard about a woman who tweeted her father’s funeral. Whatever happened to private pain?

EVAN: I have private pain every day.

ME: If you were out with a girl and she started twittering about it in the middle, would that be a deal-breaker or a turn-on?

BIZ (dryly): In the middle of what?

ME: Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

BIZ: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.

ME: Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it?

BIZ: You mean enhance civilization, make it even better?

ME: What’s your favorite book?

BIZ: I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid.

ME: But you’ve helped destroy mystery.

BIZ: When you put more information out there, sometimes you can just put a little bit of it out, which just makes the mystery even broader.

ME: Have you thought about using even fewer than 140 characters?

BIZ: I’ve seen people twitter in haiku only. Twit-u. James Buck, the student who was thrown into an Egyptian prison, just wrote “Arrested.”

ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

BIZ: Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message “Help.”

Via: Daring Fireball

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