January 24, 2008
(Mac Only) Just a quick post today. For those of you who are Bibdesk users and are still using Tiger, a small warning. Bibdesk 1.3.13 appears to break some things. I can’t do a simple drag and drop file addition/auto-filing in 1.3.13. There seems to be some serious changes to the code and new preview windows etc., in the item info screen. These changes are nice, but I can’t live without drag and drop file addition/autofiling and simple click opening of PDFs into preview (or skim). So, I’ve deprecated to 1.3.12 to get back to the working system I had before my update. Hopefully 1.3.14 will fix things. Guess the number 13 was a bad one for Bibdesk.
December 9, 2007
I’ve been meaning to blog about something that sits on my belt these days… in fact, I’ve become somewhat lost if I don’t feel it by my side. I don’t use it all the time… um, excuse me… time, in fact, is the subject matter of today’s blog post.
I’m slowly coming to a realization and sadness that time just doesn’t wait for anyone. Not even me. You see, I used to think that time would do my bidding. But, in fact, each day I grow older, there is a new grey-hair, and my time for a future family dwindles. Each week spent not focused on my work towards my Thesis and my PhD degree becomes one more week of stagnation and lack of progress towards a happier future. Unfortunately, as everyone who knows me will tell you, time and I just don’t get along. There was one thing I was early for in my life, and that was my birth. After that, I guess, I’ve been trying to make up for it.
I have another small confession to make. Often the reason I’m late is because of my love of what I’m doing at the time. You see, I spend so much of my effort and focus in “The Now” that I literally forget about the “little after now”… which ultimately will become “the now” but apparently I’m not ready for it when it does. That could be because I’m having a deep and interesting discussion about research work with one of my co-workers, and I realize I’m 5 minutes late for my time on a microscope, or it could be because I need my morning coffee “just right”, and I know it takes about 5 minutes to steep. But, what I do know, is I’m passionate and empathic about my current time. I see this as an advantage, but realize that on the other side of “now” it’s a disadvantage.
So, what can I do? What in the world is someone who lives a life bucking Father Time for all eternity to do? Aside from some serious advances in physics and anti-matter, I have to say, I’ve turned to a crutch.
Enter the Polder Timer stage left…
This is the little fellow who’s constantly at my side these days. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t beautiful, and it’s been busted at least once already. What are the things I love about it? How do I use it? Does it work for me?
What I love about it:
The multi-function timer is excellent. The feature which is killer for me is the vibrating feature. The reason for this, is that it’s relatively quiet, but when the timer is on your belt (in your pocket you’ll likely hit one of the buttons) it quietly alarms at your side. One can’t really use a normal timer when dealing with coworkers or technicians etc., and have it sitting there ticking away during your conversation and finally the saxon sounds blaringly loud! Insanity.
(How I use it: )
A little bzzzzzzt on your belt is easily managed. Going to visit an old friend for work, but you can easily get into a 1 hour conversation about life and you have a ton to achieve that afternoon? Before entering his office, set the timer to half-hour.. 15-20 minutes of work talk, 10 minutes of fun-talk. Let him know you have to go at xxx time, and then talk away. It will suck when it buzzes, but honestly, if you’re polite about it, and let him know you’ll return soon, I’m sure it will go well. It can be done relatively incognito also, so the conversation need not end immediately after the buzz. Not to mention you always have the ability to make conscious decisions about your time (Covey) when it’s required. Did he tell you a doozey? His dog just died last night? You can reschedule your next meeting if it’s important to your friendship.
What this timer allows me to do, is manage time and allow my brain to roam free (until the buzz) as it usually does. Instead, it is brought back to earth when I want it to be (my setting on the timer). This is a wonderful wonderful thing. An example… the EDS on the Scanning Electron Microscope needs like 2 minutes to get it’s job done, and the darned machine that runs it has no sound (ugh windows)… set your timer for 2 minutes, read your journal article, bzztt… EDS is done, get back to the SEM. Works like a freakin’ charm. I use it like that all day. Need to check on the growth-chamber and check it’s vacuum before growth? 5 minutes degass, 5 minutes off, measure, etc. I can go back to my desk sure that I’ll be reminded of when to check the gauge.
I also use it to do dashes of work when I’m not in front of my computer… 15 minutes of focused work, 5 min. break etc., (or 2 min. but I always eek out more break).
Of course the timer also has a visual cue (blinking red-light on the top you can set if you want), as well as a nice loud buzzer as needed. In the dark, the visual cue is nice, can set the timer down and not disturb SWMBO’d.
What I don’t like:
The belt clip that came with it was busted within the first week. I liked that it had a clip, stand, and magnet on it… but it was too weak. What did I do to solve the problem? For about a week I tried to use it in my pocket, but I always touched the buttons, etc., and it was a pain… so I scoured around various stores to find a cheap stick-on cell-phone clip replacement. Found one, gorilla-glued it on the back, and now I have an excellent clip to hold it to my belt. I’ve got plans to add the old magnet to the clip, but haven’t yet. It’s much easier to clip and unclip now that I’ve replaced the belt-clip.
Also, unfortunately, there is little to no memory. That means I set the darned thing all the time. This isn’t so bad, but a few memories would really make work-dashes much easier.
Counting stops at the alarm. I’d much rather it continue on. So, if I set it for 5 minutes, for some reason I miss it, how long did I miss it for? When was that buzzer going? I’d love to know if I missed it by half a minute, or by 20 minutes! No such luck. You can count up from zero, you can count down from X, but you can’t count up from zero after counting down from X. Kinda sucks.
But… the price is right. Nice and cheap, and the killer apps (vibrating and light alarm) are very worth the price. (Even with added new belt-clip.)
I took it on my chin for about a month with SWMBO’d… I got crap like: “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long dinner takes?” … (while heading to the bathroom one night)… “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long it takes you to SH… (ave)”? [I added the ave]… Oh, she’s a cad alright. Real cad. Real funny gal. But, my timer is still on my belt, and it’s still helping me work. So, if you can live past the joshing you’ll take, you might just fine that a crutch like a timer will really help your timelessness.
Coming from a serious space-case and procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s certainly helped me.
(Oh, BTW, just for the record, Grace Kelly was so damned hot. I just had to let that out. Hell, if I was a King, I’d have married her. Holy crap. (TCM on tonight.))
November 13, 2007
A very quick blog-post regarding a recent TED lecture I listened to (posted recently from 2004) on the training of our minds to focus on happiness… I’m supposed to be working on a journal article review, so I must make this short…
Matthieu_Ricard‘s TED lecture regarding happiness touched on something I have come across before (just found his Google lecture- will have to watch that also). During his talk, Ricard discussed how Anger and these types of emotions can be destroyed, by focusing on the actual emotion of anger, rather than the event of the anger which frustrates you. Surprisingly, a light-bulb went off above my head (I have it on my desk now- well, ok, maybe I’m joking… ). You see, this sounded very very much like the talk of a great man I truly admire- C.S.Lewis in his discussion of his search for Joy in Surprised By Joy. [note- this is not the complete focus of Lewis' book, but it does play a role in his discussion about happiness and his pursuit of it.] You see, Lewis realized (as the great philosopher he was), that every time he was truly happy and went to observe what happiness meant, he all of a sudden was no longer happy. The conclusion that Lewis came to, was that Happiness itself cannot be studied, aside from the event of happiness which could be experienced. In otherwords, observing his emotions technically, meant that his motions ceased to be. And this very much ties in with Ricard’s discussion of Mind-Training (say through meditation). Basically, observation of the state of being Angry, turns your focus from Anger’s object, and upon the object of You and how you are experiencing anger in its pure form- your emotional response only… say the physical response of your body to your emotions, etc. A very interesting twist on a concept I had heard of before.
Frustration reared its ugly head for me in my work these past few weeks, and the action(s) of a supposed friend/mentor has me quite fuming. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to complain, and so I must move forward, not to let my emotions dictate my actions or my ability to act. In fact, a negative response to this likely won’t do any good at all. And so, this week, I think I’ll take a page out of Ricard’s book, and observe my physical and mental response technically in regards to my emotions of Anger, and see if I can’t make them more fleeting, as Ricard says… as birds flying across the sky, leaving no trace on my mind.
There are many things that Christians can learn from the mystics and philosophers of the east- just as Chesterton saw them, I also see them- they are philosophers and scientists, not solely religious focused practitioners. Buddhism and the like is a religion, and then again, it isn’t. Very much like a koan itself… it has no specific god, but sees all as god at the same time. What is much more interesting, is to look at how Buddhists (and Toaists) see Man’s position in the world, and how one copes with one’s existence, and the mystical explanaitions of such existence. Very interesting.
Oh, and as much as you can believe f-MRI (and I have my doubts sometimes), Ricard and his fellow Monks were completely off the charts in the studies  they participated in. So, meditation does change the brain…
Not only do we have to learn good habits in our work, etc, we must also learn good habits in our mind. Ricard’s closing statements about how much we focus on our exterior, good health, exercise, etc., and contrastingly, how little we spend on our interior, mental processes, health, and internal happiness, was very poignant.
Update- Wednesday; November 14, 2007- Reading more has been interesting. I wanted to add a few points.
• It’s clear that some of the Catholic Astheticists have a link of common experiences with monks of the East. Merton recognized this, and it led to a long discourse (which still exists to this day) between Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism (here the Trappists). It’s also clear that there is a wariness occurring in the Catholic church about the amount of Buddhist practices which are entering into many churches and retreat centers etc. In fact before he became Pope, the new guy also was discussing this. It appears that the “grass is always greener” syndrome is happening here for many western Christians.
• I think there is a delineation that should be made between a mental practice of a methodology know to alter the mental state, bringing about this “mental training” that Ricard discusses and practicing religious aspects of a methodology that should likely raise some warning flags for Christians in the process. For example- the concept that all is the same and all is nothing… this is somewhat Nihilist and should raise some flags… while we may not know for sure, a Christian believes this is not correct. I.e., that there is a truth and a wrong in the world, and that there is a divine truth and a divine good. And that man is separate from this divine good etc. Much of this discussion will not jive with many aspects of Buddhism. But, this does not mean that a philosophy separate from a religious practice cannot have portions of truth in it for the Christian believer. As C.S. Lewis would say in regards to the earlier religions that had aspects similar to the death of Christ, etc.- it is not these earlier religions that show the fault in Christianity, in fact, it is the very fact that they harken to a truth that is Christian that upgirds Christianity. They share partial truths, namely because there is such a thing as the full truth. It shouldn’t surprise us if man every once in a while stumbles across a truth which we find also in our Christian teachings.
• I focus on the philosophy of the eastern thoughts, not on the religious aspects (unless I’m doing comparative religious readings), and find the majority of this all quite interesting. Those who are familiar with Sin should immediately recognize reflections of it in Tao “The Way”. C.S. Lewis did, and commented on it in his “The Abolition Of Man.” I.e., to live a sinless life, one needs to flow around obstacles in one’s path like a river around rocks… (that east-west image I just created should give you a sense of the richness of this type of discourse)
• So, I step forward here, deeply interested in meditation again since reading of the fMRI results. Anxiously awaiting the future publications of this work. And, I am now reading what I can about practices etc., to determine if I can mix meditation “mind-training” into my current spiritual life. BTW, I see some practices in the Eastern Christian sects that have this meditation history (Jesus prayer etc.), and so it is likely that there is a synergy here. Merton and the Dalai Llama certainly noticed it… it should be an interesting experience…
• ps- “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome actually works both ways… in my experience, a good portion of the Chinese students who arrive in this country are just itching to talk about Christianity with anyone who seems open to it. They have a real curiosity. So, it goes both ways. They also will chat about ConfuTse and ChuangTse etc., if asked… which can be quite interesting as well. [ps- I love ChuangTse more than both ConfuTse and LaoTse. While LaoTse may have been the first, ChuangTse was the one who expressed it the best.]
October 1, 2007
One of the critical aspects of human nature is man’s capacity for imagination and dreaming. Recently, I’ve been exploring my thoughts as they arise a bit more than I have in the past. The reason for this, is that I’ve found my dreams are critical to my happiness.
Somehow as we age, and as our responsibilities increase, we slowly learn to turn off our dreams. We no longer dream of being an honorable fire-man or police-officer. Somewhere in the more adult version of us is a little whisper that we didn’t have as a child. It says things like: “Come now, that’s silly, you can’t possibly entertain that dream…” In some senses, we’ve either altered our consciousness as we’ve aged, or we’ve added a new darker conscience. Now, I’m not saying we all leave our jobs and pick up learning the fireman’s carry… but, perhaps some of you who’s deepest passions really do bend towards public-service and fire-fighting should consider joining a volunteer fire-department?
What I’m merely suggesting, is not to let go of dreaming. It’s one of those easy things that costs almost nothing. It costs a bit of day-dreaming time. I suspect (and am finding in my own life) it’s very very important.
When I talk about dreaming, I’m not only talking about the pie-in-the-sky type dreams we used to have as kids, but I’m also talking about thinking and dreaming positively about the future of our lives. In other words: “What would it be like if *I* was the manager?”… “What would my house be like if I had any ability to do what I wanted to with our house when we first bought it?”… “How would I be towards my wife if I truly was happy with our lives?” Now, be careful of negatives slipping in there… but, if you had all the time (and the kids weren’t waking up at 2am for water), how would you act with your wife? What would be your night on the town?
If I’m having the effect I want on you, hopefully I’ve touched off some day-dreams. Now, the next step is critical… I want you to entertain those dreams just a bit. [If you are like me, just thinking of doing that is going to bring a smile and a smirk to your face. Relish that smile for a bit...] That night out you just thought of? How much money and time would be required for that? But, you have kids? Ok, well, how much for a babysitter for the night? Can you get someone to watch them overnight? See what I’m doing? I’m trying to get you to entertain what it might take to make some of your dreams come true. Just *how* much would a Lear Jet to Paris really cost? [go find out!]
When you start to see your dreams as being possible, start to entertain them a bit, a change likely will begin to happen. That negativism (that little conscience that used to say- yeah, but you’re grown up… or you’ll never make it… ) is quieted a bit. You’re turning a bit more positive in your dreaming, and positive in your life directions. And this, my friend, is *so* important.
I’m learning this first-hand. Somewhere down the line of my graduate work, I slowly became more and more depressed. Depressed because I wasn’t saving the world; wasn’t making the talks at conferences I expected; wasn’t publishing to the level I had dreamed of when I first started. Over the years I somehow started seeing me as someone other than I was at heart. That was at the core of my general malaise. Then, a dream, (which I likely won’t talk about here unless things look like they’re moving forward positively) became possible.
Oh, likely it won’t ever happen, but, I found myself encompassed by that dream for 3-4 days straight. Thoughts of: “I’ll never make the cut.” ; “I don’t have the physical ability for this.”; “I’m not fancy enough for them.” Were riddling my thoughts… but somehow, that possibility of the dream I had when I was younger was constantly in the fore-front of my mind. And it caused me to smile. I was laughing at myself. Seriously, I’m entertaining this craziness? Yes. I was/am. Hilarious. So, I continue to entertain this possible dream, and that’s when I noticed a positive change in attitude. I seem to have more energy to set goals and tasks than I had before. All because I had a focus, and a hope for something I never would have ever tried.
So, my thought for you, is to dream. Think of those things that used to focus your interest as you were younger. In the very least, entertain them at least a little. Are there hobbies or things you could learn that would make you smile a bit more? If you find a little dream (say learning to tap-dance, or paint with oils, or play the piano, or even learn to enter and exit a burning building…) talk with your spouse about them. Tell her of the importance of dreaming, get her to dream and talk to you about what she would love to try and do. Share your thoughts/ dreams/ idiot ideas together, without negativism. As your spouse’s help-mate, confirm her dreams, and either openly, or in secret, help her to pursue them.
I suspect that you will be finding a bit of a spring in your step, and more smiling happening. We are living on this earth a short time. It would be a shame to get to the end, and not to have done a few things that your adult-conscience would have said “Silly stupidness” to. Or, that negative voice saying: “You can’t possibly do that.”
The difference between adventurers and those who read about adventurers happens right after they dream. If you’re an adventurer, you’ll entertain that dream and make it possible against all odds.
September 25, 2007
It has been some time since I’ve talked about productivity, so I thought it might be time for a new post. Since my work has been heating up, and I’m trying to finish up a serious breadth (and depth) of work in my research, I’ve also updated my productivity tools. What I’m going to tell you about here, is only one new aspect of my tools, one that I’ve been meaning to re-try for a very long time.
Remembering Covey’s 7-Habits (my first reading)…
The first time I read Covey’s 7-Habits book, I was struggling with my work and direction. Even though I was a bit brain-numb after the incessant use of “paradigm”, the book touched me deeply. The advantage of my first reading, is that I read it on my own time, and on my own prodding. In my opinion, this is the way all productivity books should be read. If you are not self-driven to read them, it will only be painful. One of the important aspects that hit home was Covey’s discussion of the weekly schedule. The weekly schedule as Covey describes it has the advantage of David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review. Focusing on your Roles and Goals for each role, Covey has you set up your weekly priorities and ToDo’s in such a manner as to forward your long-term goals on a weekly basis. The idea being that if you are not furthering every aspect of your life that is important to you each week, you will feel stagnant in that area, and therefore, unfulfilled.
Covey also suggests your week should be viewed all at once (say on a single 8.5 x 11″page). The advantage of this is a longer-term view which keeps you moving through the week, but on a tight enough view that you can get your work done. The daily view often hyper-focuses us, and when we hit the 5pm clock hour, we suddenly realize we missed doing something for the morning meetings. So, viewing everything over the whole week allows us to prioritize a bit better. Sure, there are other methods than this, but this is a simple method and I suspect it works well whenever it’s implemented. I found it to be true for me…
A top-down view of my direction at the time I read 7 Habits was very important to me to re-invigorate my focus and drive in my work. Doing so through the weekly Roles and Goals allowed me to see my week’s work together as a whole, and subsequently that week’s work as a part of the longer-term goals I had laid out for myself. The time-period I consider one of my more productive set of months was when I was xerox-copying the blank weekly schedule located in Chapter “Habit 3- First Things First”. This Chapter was so influential to many, that it eventually became a second book by Covey entitled the same. Certainly for me it hammered home some very important ideas. [Like the time-quadrant.] So, with merely a set of xeroxed sheets, I was making good headway in juggling my days. From there, and it’s success, I purchased the Franklin-Covey planners, and moved away from that simple one-page form. A mistake for me. Having the printed out sheets may help some, but for me, not seeing my week all together really hurt my productivity. I just couldn’t get into the planner.
So, for many years I’ve thought about that sheet. In fact, a good friend of mine, who had success with the Franklin-Planner after I described in crude terms the majority of the first half of Covey’s book, was using it as well with good success. Missing it, I finally decided to make another one from scratch (since I couldn’t find my old printouts and xeroxes). I had a few new goals for the sheet, which I’ll describe here, and how they fit together.
If you are interested in a downloadable pdf of what I worked out, please see the very bottom of this blog post. It’s not perfect yet, and so it’s a bit hard to release something that is not perfect, and I haven’t checked out to see if anything is copyrighted etc, adding more difficulty to tacking it up here for download. But, if you request it, I’ll likely do so, unless I hear from someone that it’s illegal for some weird reason.
My new goals- The Now Habit, and PCEO…
The Now Habit’s Unschedule
Another influential book I’ve discussed here, is the Now Habit. One important aspect of the book is an understanding of the time you have during your day. [Many procrastinators believe they have all the time in the world- that they can do something "later." Consequently, most procrastinators appear to have very poor conceptualization of time; at least in the way they fit in to the whole "time" thing. Surely, that is true of me.] Fiore’s concept of “The Unschedule” is an attempt (and a great one) to help procrastinators see where their time is going, and how much time they have to accomplish things. In particular, everything *other than* work is scheduled. So, you can look forward to this or that time off, etc., and you can see your blocks of time available for work (if you so choose to work). The start of this process is to track your time during your day, and attempt to see how you spend your time (say for 2 weeks before starting the unschedule). Then, you plan your week with time-blocks, for the items that you would like to do (having fun, eating dinner with your hottie, sleeping, breakfast, etc.). So, in this respect, Neil Fiore’s work also has a week-view focus. Similar to Covey, he suggests not putting everything in your schedule. [Both allow for set-time appointments etc., but not for work-tasks that can be done at anytime.]
So, automatically, when I do this one-page form, I’m going to be using the unschedule with it. The form needs, therefore, a 24 hour view of the day. So I can see all the available time. I’m often using extremely late hours as well (for various reasons, one being that I’m unfortunately a night-owl). (24 hours in the day, check) [The full sheet is show below. The left hand column is for Weekly Priorities, Roles and Goals, and Sharpen The Saw tasks. The upper half of the rest is for daily tasks that require focused time, and daily tasks that only require a check-mark. The lower half is a 24 hour schedule, colored for the UnSchedule.]
The Printable CEO…
David Seah‘s Printable CEO forms have been intriguing me for a very long time. They’re a bit like the DIYPlanner.com pages, although their focus is more on tracking projects and time spent on projects. I’ve played around with a number of Seah’s forms, never finding one that I really liked the bestest (probably my fault). But a number of things about Seah’s forms have hit home for me. One, those darn time-bubbles. What a wonderful idea. Bubbles. You see, for long projects that require me to do tons of work on one subject, I never get to cross these off. But, give me 15 minute bubbles, and couple that with a work-dash of focused 15 minutes of work, and all of a sudden, I can sit there and focus for 15 minutes, and scribble in a bubble. Something just feels good about filling those bubbles in. Very non-test-like. More like- “Yea! I filled in a bubble!”. Positive reinforcement and focus- ah… very very nice. The form I used the most for this was his Task Order Up (3×5) forms. I would set up the 4 major tasks that required over 15 minutes of time each and attempt to work through those during my day. Usually that was with a work-dash, and with a hyper-focus attitude towards the work. So, I wasn’t really using Seah’s forms properly, but the killer-app was working really well for me.
The rest of Seah’s forms look fantastic, but that one idea really was the “killer-app”. So, bubbles are required… not to mention a task-area. (check) [Covey's schedule has a task area above the schedule, so we're already seeing synchronicity- now we just need to add bubbles.]
I decided to take a few tips from the Task Tracker, and add bubbles to the day’s view below the schedule. This means the very last thing on the page is a row of subdivided bubbles, larger than the 15 minute bubbles, signifying hours. I’ve noticed a wonderful benefit to this. At a single glance, I can see how many hours in the day was spent on a focused task, and if I look above, in the task area for that day, I can see which task can be associated with that time. [Attached is the task-section of each day show. One bubble corresponds to 15 minutes. Once a row is filled (or equivalent), a 1 hour bubble at the bottom of the sheet can be filled.]
Bringing it all together…
So, the basic basis was the productive tool of the Weekly Schedule of Covey’s. The idea of Roles/Goals which to me tend to focus the multiple higher-level views of David Allen (5,000ft +, etc.) are available on the left of the schedule. Right now, there isn’t a direct link to context or to project views. I’m assuming that on this sheet you’ve chosen some Quadrant 2 type tasks that are not specific in time, other than you’d like to get them done that week. Ostensibly, you’ll choose these items from your Context list or Project list of GTD’s (I like to use OmniFocus for this), but this is a quick way to see your focus for the week/day in a quick glance. For getting more done, I’m hoping to use 3×5′s of printouts of OmniFocus tasks or OmniFocus directly as a normal GTD system would. So, see this form as an advanced calendar (that you fill in yourself), not as a whole system replacement.
With this schedule, I can look at my UnSchedule (colored pencil outlining in my week’s schedule area to see my blocks of time), I can track my progress on each task for the day, and see a final tally of the important task’s work at a day’s and week’s glance. I’m also using it to overlay what I *actually* do during my week, and see how I’ve been bad at my unscheduling. So, if I say I should sleep from noon-8am, and I actually sleep from 2am-8am, I can see that immediately throughout the week.
The bubbles are also becoming a bit like Sienfeld’s Chain Of X’s approach in some senses. If I see that I’ve been good the past few days, I’m more likely to want to see more filled bubbles across the bottom for the current day. Nice little side-advantage. [Sorry no bubbles are filled in this form- I scanned it last week before I started filling it.]
I’m still tweaking space etc., as a one-page week view is always very difficult to fit everything in. But, for now, it’s going fairly decently. I’m finding my old success again, renewed by these new concepts, and finding that creating the new week’s page helps me to review my weekly goals and tasks (ala GTD).
One final note- this sheet gets punched into my Circa notebook at the very back. I’ve been editing a number of short journal-article like papers which I try and complete with every major item started in my Thesis work. So, this becomes a very rough overview of my work. It’s worked so well, that I often refer to it while talking with microscope technicians and others interested in my work. So, I’ve found I frequently am carrying this Circa around with me everywhere, hence making it a natural place to keep this schedule. [Not to mention I can print out the schedule on paper that my fountain-pens love.]
(Just between you and I, I don’t have many bubbles on my form for today… ach. So, I better do some good tomorrow and the next day to make up for it.)
Earworm: “Brandy Alexander” performed by Feist from Bonnaroo 2007, Manchester, Tn
Edit, Thursday; September 27, 2007, Here’s the first version for your perusal (pdf, 160 kB): WeeklySchedule ver.1
June 26, 2007
Well, tomorrow morning I sit a pretty nasty examination. My preliminary examination. Four professors (admittedly of my choosing) get to sit and nail me on my work. They get to ask me questions out of the blue, and I get to fumble and “um” and “ah” my way around to some crude answer. Likely to not know the answer at all. I’m insanely stressed. I guess I got myself into this. There’s really no other way to move forward than to have this exam completed. I just hope it ends the way I hope it does, and not with me whimpering in a corner and planning a career as a sign-holder for the local hot-dog establishment.
Pretty freaked out. You see I don’t have the benefit of the classes in my field that most other students have. I switched focus half way through my degree… ugh. But, I just couldn’t live with myself if I whimped out and quit just because the going was going to get rough. So, it’s gotten rough. And here I am- in a strange field, trying my best to do good work and learn what I need to know.
I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes- there’s nothing new under the sun. Vanities of vanities… we set ourselves up to believing that this work is critical, extremely important to our existence, etc… in the end, I’ll be fine even if I don’t pass. Life goes on, and the sun comes up in the morning. If I do pass, the pain is only to get worse. But, eventually, I hope to make a good living doing something I love to do. If I can get through this exam, I’ll be started on my way to doing just that.
So, let’s hope I pass! Send up prayers or well-wishes as you see fit. I’ll let you know how it goes on the flip-side…
April 28, 2007
One of the most beautiful days of spring… wonderful sun, clear skys with teddy-bear making clouds… Chel comes home from a conference (must have been all day sitting on a seat), and starts in. First, she calls ahead- I want to go do something. Fine. I like the idea. Except I’ve been enjoying the day and I’m not showered yet. So, I jump in the shower immediately. She gets home and continues to berate me about how I haven’t done this or that… I apologize, then argue… I say, fine, sorry, where do you want to go? She wants to go to the mall and freakin’ buy shoes. Beautiful day, spring flowers in bloom (freakin’ arboretum is only 10 minutes down the street), and she wants to go to a dark dingy mall and buy shoes?!?!
Her first mistake is thinking any man would ever want to accompany women to buy shoes. I’m supposed to determine which shoes look good? Hell, does any man *ever* look at women’s shoes? [I suggest that likely the eye immediately goes to a woman's calf once the ankle has been spotted... ] Knowing the sun is only up for a few hours, I suggest the Arboretum… am met with frustration, and more argument, and how lazy I am… ugh.
So, I sit on the back-porch trying to do more research work while she’s off doing Lord knows what fuming at me about our inability to do things together, while I’m concerned about my Thesis.
I guess I’m the bad guy.
ps- this is linked to Procrastination and the Now Habit- because people who have trouble working and fear bad outcomes don’t ever let themselves do anything fun… and while they are supposed to be working, often they aren’t working and are procrastinating. That goes to Fiore’s the un-schedule. If she had told me she wanted to spend the evening together, fine, I’d prep for it… work hard until the time to go out hits. Instead, we watch a movie together last night, and she wants to spend tonight out and watch another movie… not something I can do right now. Oh well, will have to talk with her when we both calm down.
April 4, 2007
The dreaded question to the graduate student: “When will you get out?”/”When will you be finished?”/”When will you get your degree?”… and for those long in the tooth grads: “Aren’t you already done?”/”Haven’t you graduated yet?”
In fact, even those very close to you will never understand the plight of the grad-student trying to finish up, until one has already been there. The reason? Science and graduate-studies wait for no one. Think you can get the chamber to grow films within x-months? Likely you won’t be able to. Something invariably comes up. This time it was the heater-block failure. Finally we have the block ordered and the machinists have expressed their desire to only tap a #4-40 hole at the smallest (can’t do a #5-40, but they’ll do a #4-40) into the super-alloy block. Wacked out. Our in-house machinist could do it- makes you wonder why they can’t. Anyways, I digress… it took 2 weeks to figure out we couldn’t fix the old one in time, and so we’re buying another for $3.5k. Nice tidy sum. But, that was the latest wrench in the works. You should have seen the face on my graduate-student co-worker: “But, but, we were in a good growth regime!”… “Ha ha haa!!” is all I laughed. See, I’ve been there, experienced it, and I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to be finished and get out of here. I think all of this is possible by October of this year. I hope to God it is. [Believe me, I pray regularly... who says Scientists aren't also religous... as a grad-student, it's almost a prerequisite.]
So, I hold up in my apartment writing and working numbers furiously. Trying to make sense of the work, and increase my knowledge. That’s what I need to do in order to get further… write and discover, discover and write.
Anyone who actually gives you an ending date which is 6 months away is likely not sure of their ending date. They’re only telling you to get you off their backs. Hell, I was telling people I’d be done in 1.5 years 4 years ago. Nothing ever works the way you expect it. Graduate studies in science tends to be this big behemoth lurking over your head which will one day be done with… only when you’re around 4 months away can you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Time is running short for me. I can see the light, but I have no idea if I’ll make it there in time. Chel is ready to start a new life together… and she can’t understand why the prelim has been in the works for over a year. It’s hard to explain to her why. In fact, no one other than my professor is likely to understand why. Even then, he may say he doesn’t know and has helped as much as he can. Everyone will have their own opinions of the work. The real question in the end is whether or not the work you have accomplished will be suitable for the committee. The only way to know that is to ask the committee. The only way to ask the committee is to have as many of your ducks in a row as possible. So that when they line of up for shooting practice, hopefully they’ll all agree it’s fairly decent work.
I think I’m finally done with my misorientation calculations. I know that my axes are in the wrong section of the rodriguez space, so some more work needs to be done… but for now, I know the matrix traces are correct, and the angles based on symmetry are calculated properly. This should be enough to move forward for now. Onto the next problem. It’s going to be frustrating to explain why it took 2/3 weeks to figure this out… and hard to express my increased knowledge. Hopefully it’ll all come out in the end. In fact, I need to go update some of my documents to express this new understanding. And time to update the prelim document and work on the talk. If all goes well, (praying and crossing fingers), I’ll hopefully be done with the Prelim in 3 weeks. Of course, I’ve already told that to enough people already (over the past 3 months), that it doesn’t mean much to me anymore. We’ll see if it actually gets done.
The worst of it- the more I discover, the more I have to change the prelim and the papers I’m writing. Best to just stop and finish the writing before discovering more.
But, these last few peices of the puzzle are critical to the Prof. for publishing the paper, so it needed to be done.
Lesson of the day: Do NOT ask a graduate student when he “thinks he will be done.” It’s improper, impolite, and I know you think it’s a simple question, but I guarantee to you it is *not* a simple question. The poor graduate student has to somehow sum up all possibilities of future failures and success and try and approximate a finishing date. If he tells you greater than 1 year, he’s lying (or he doesn’t know), if he tells you less than 4 months, he’s likely correct, as he’ s almost deposited his Thesis. But, the standard rule of adding at least 2 months onto the time he thinks he’s going to be out applies in the last case.
This is only further proof that the world of science is an inexact world. Trying to accomplish a work which is worthy of the PhD title is very difficult, and very loosely defined. Intensity of work from X- university is different than Y- university… x-research group very different than y-research group… x-field different than y-field, etc. So much so, that it’s very difficult to determine how one arrives at the PhD state…
In fact, I don’t really care how one does it… I just need it done so that I can move on and achieve a good work for a company. I need to accomplish more in my life than papers and theses now. So few will ever read my work that I often wonder what good it will all do in the end… hopefully I’ll garner a decent wage for my family, though. [You don't wan't to know how much my friend is making on much less effort... let's just say that anyone who tries for their PhD is *not* in it for the money!]
I recently got to see Jorge Cham of PhD comics give a talk about graduate-school at my university. Excellent, excellent stuff. All I can say is that we are not alone… everyone goes through very similar experiences. I just hope that when I get done with this “experience” that I’m a Dr. so and so, instead of missing that degree. It’s a never-ending worry of mine, and sometimes it causes me to sit stunned before my work… I may actually never finish in time. I can’t let my worry stand in my way here, though. I have little to no time to worry anymore. It just needs to get done. I just hope it’s not too late to do so…
March 27, 2007
Well, just a few days from my optimism-v-cynicism post, I find myself a bit in the dumps about work. I hate how my emotional state directly effects my productivity. David Allen talks about this at times also… basically, our brains aren’t good tools for figuring out what to do. They’ll pick either the items that have the largest emotional burden on us, or they’ll pick the item which was made closest to “now”. That emotional comment struck home for me. Just today we learned that our heaterblock wasn’t fixed by a simple re-soldering. So, it’s being shipped back to the company, and will likely also not be able to be fixed. Hopefully they’ll ship us all the parts back, because I’d like our crack-machinist to have his hand at it. With enough time, I’m positive he could fix it. The man is a genius at his job.
So, I lost some time to me just sitting and pouting about this stuff. Totally stupid, totally no reason to do so. If I had had all my ducks in a row, and my lists in proper order for the *next* actions, I wouldn’t have been in that situation… just look through my lists and hammer through this stuff. I need to overcome this as it will make me an ineffective worker at times. I’m sure you all get this also. Things going bad, makes you think for long periods of time about how to fix them, or just malaise of them going badly is enough. A slump in other words.
Well, I think I’m back on the horse today. Hammered out a few more matlab programs to do my work. Need to write another tonight before I’ll feel I’m getting somewhere. I’ve found someone is wrong… either me, or some other fellows who wrote the books, or the software company. We can’t all have different answers to this one- so somone or some of us are wrong. Will need to be absolutely sure about my calculations before getting anyone on the phone from tech-support, however. Can’t just say they are wrong without proof.
So, here’s to another night of hard work, if possible… and to letting your brain forget about the crap, and plug on through it.
Let me know how you like to get yourself into your work even when things are going rough, if you’re inclined to share! I’m sure Fiore would have some good quotes about this, but will look for them later if I have time.
March 20, 2007
[Trying to go through some old posts that never got finalized and get them out of the in-box here. More coming soon...]
One of the first ways a graduate student can have a crisis of faith in science is in the growth of an internal conscience of cynicism. From without, the hallowed halls of scientific study appear pristine in all their perfection- each old brick standing credence for all that is contained within; an unshakable and infallible human institution.
From the inside, the older graduates here will known- it isn’t all shiny baubles and Jacob’s ladders like in the movies. Surprise! This human institution is fallible. (Is anything human ever infallible?) For those of us who are idealists, this presents us with a serious crisis. My comment on this to my fellow idealists is: Deal with it! If you don’t, you will never survive an existence as a human. (Unless perhaps you grew up on Mars, Mr. V. M. Smith.)
My Prof. once said: “Allen, you’ll never make it as a scientist if you are a pessimist. A good scientist is an optimist.” How true. And so, I offer to you the importance of balance: Cynicism balanced by Optimism. This is best of course if you are cynical of all work done by other research groups and optimistic about your own group’s work. This is one of the true ironies of science. Scientists claim to be completely impartial to the outcome of their work, but in conducting their work, they focus on an hypothesis and do everything they can to show their hypothesis is true. Sometimes they completely ignore statistical significance, and sometimes ignore other “uninteresting” reasons an observation may occur. Now, a scientist will say that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the hypothesis proves out or not, but with today’s extremely difficult funding environment, at least on one level, this is certainly not the case. As well, it must be conceded that the scientist is truly focusing on a single hypothesis at the detriment of all others, at least until he gives up hope (faith) in proving it true.
Now, the fallibility of the Prof., and perhaps more importantly, the graduate student (who’s likely doing all the work after all) means that most scientific research must be scrutinized with the utmost care. Hence cynicism is your friend:
“What was forgotten in that ‘landmark’ study?”, “What isn’t being said?”, “What is ignored and how serious is it?” When you start digging (especially in the soft sciences) you find numerous questions abound. Frequently, there are little to no answers to be had. Sometimes it’s amazing science survives at all. So, be cynical. Dig for problems. Attempt to avoid them in your own work as well.
Speaking of your own work- being too good of a cynic will cause you problems. You see- Gradschool is ultimately one big ol’ problem. 99 out of 100 times you will fail at the test you are running. I myself have worked on well over 10 major projects in my grad studies. An example: Want to run some Hall-effect measurements (DC) on the old machine in the back lab? Well, the machine may need to be fixed, or reprogrammed, or perhaps babied to work. This will happen at each step of the way. At times it will feel like the Universe is conspiring to prevent your work from succeeding. Likely it is. Sometimes the problems are too coincidental to ignore. However- lamenting this fact will not help you. Here is where my advisor’s words ring true. If at each impasse you sit on the ground Indian-style with arms folded and bottom lip pouting- complaining that said experiment is doomed to failure… well, you can imagine how well and how fast that work will turn into your thesis! Ultimately, that’s what you are here for.
So being cautious and slightly cynical about your work can help, but it must be balanced by optimism. If it isn’t, you are in for a world of hurt. Your optimism can come from any source you feel is acceptable- internal, external, etc. This we will save for another post.
So, learn to balance your new Grad-student pathway. Cynicism has it’s useful points, but it can easily become so overwhelming so as to hurt your progress (procrastination), create malaise (procrastination), and ultimately cause failure of your goal. You are here to attempt this great job of “Science”- and it would do you well to pay close attention to those in your field who are successful in it.
(BTW, you may even have to face the odd firing squad. You had better learn optimism so that when faced with it, you can stand up to the onslaught. Questioning yourself, your work, and your purpose can be a good thing- just remember, they don’t give out theses for “questioning” nor for “internal struggles” – They only give these out for tangible work. More on internal struggles in future posts…)
Good luck with all your experiments. Hang in there- yes, it’s likely to not work- but, well, you won’t know that until you actually try it, now will you? So, get in there and try it!