Tag Archives: review

Getting Things Done, Remember the Milk, and First Things First

I regularly use an app called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a to-do list that syncs across my computer and smart phone. It has multiple lists so that I can categorize things a little bit. It has priorities so that I can sort things according to near-term and far term. It does due dates. It does notes. It saves URLs. It’s a pretty comprehensive little app.

Remember the Milk is my “bucket” for the Getting Things Done method. David Allen suggested in Getting Things Done  that he needed to have some trusted, central location to put to-do items. By having such a trusted place to put all his to-do’s, he could put them out of his mind and focus on doing something. Trying to keep track of all the things he was afraid of forgetting in his head made him almost crazy. He calls this trusted to-do list his “bucket.”

I try to do the same. When I’m reading email or working on a project, I look for to-do’s. Even cleaning the house brings up to-do’s (like buying soap or ordering vacuum bags). Trying to hold those in my head would drive me crazy. My head is full. Instead, they all go in the app. If I have an idea for a blog, it goes in the app. If I remember that I need to change the oil in the car, it goes in the app. Then they get sorted out later.

How do I sort them? I find that Covey’s First Things First method is most appropriate for me. He divides things according to importance and urgency. Things that are important-and-urgent are Quadrant I. Things that are important-but-not-urgent are Quadrant II. The non-important are divided into Quadrants III and IV accordingly.

2016-11-16 05_39_59-Krita.png

Everything goes in the bucket. The bucket get sorted into the quadrants. The to-do’s get done immediately, go on the calendar (if there’s a due date) or go on the scrum board (if they are Q2 – important but have no due date). Some things get thrown away. The shorter the list, the happier I am.

Three meditation apps I like

I have tried three different meditation apps and found all of them have very good points. The first app I tried was called Headspace. It is well organized, habit-forming, and I like Andy Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the founder of Headspace and does all the guided meditations). He also did a TED talk which I suspect increased his visibility and gave his app a big boost. The only complaint I have about headspace is that it is very expensive. It costs $13 per month (though they have discounts for longer-term subscriptions). Their lifetime membership cost is $400. For me, it was worth it for one year to learn the skill, but not worth it for multiple years.

Brain.FM is a browser/mobile app that plays binaural beats while you work so that you can focus better. Binaural beats are an odd perceptual phenomenon. If you play two sounds that have almost the same frequency, the interference between the two waveforms makes what is called a beat frequency (beat frequency youtube demo). Here’s the weird thing: if you play one tone into your left ear, and a second tone into your right ear, you perceive the beat frequencies despite the waves not physically interfering with each other. Our brain reconstructs the beat frequency from the difference between the two tones. Supposedly, if that beat frequency matches certain brainwave frequencies, it can induce certain moods and mental states.

I don’t know if that is going to work for everyone. There seems to be some evidence that binaural beats do affect brain waves. It does seem to help me: there are different binaural beats for sleep, focus, and meditation. All of them seem to perform as advertised for me. The brain.FM app also has several guided meditations that I find useful. I got the lifetime subscription to brain.FM with a discount code; that offer seems to have expired, but there do seem to be other discounts available from time to time.

The third app I tried for meditation is Calm.com. The app can act as a background noise generator. It can make the sound of splashing water or wind through the trees (and several other pleasant sounds). I liked those when I was working in a shared office and needed some background noise to help me tune out distractions. They now offer several guided meditations and “sleep stories.” I’m excited to try sleep stories. I guess it’s like a meditative bedtime story to help you go to sleep. I usually don’t fall asleep well if I can hear talking or music. Still, I have found that a relaxation exercise before bed does help me sleep.

Bonus: I have also tried the insight timer which has a simple timer with chimes at regular intervals. It also has community-uploaded guided meditations. A few of those are good but most of them have a lot of ambient music that I don’t like very much (think sitars, zithers and didgeridoos).

 

https://www.headspace.com
https://www.brain.fm
https://www.calm.com

Bonus:
https://insighttimer.com/

Men, Goats, Good and Evil

I just saw the Men who Stare at Goats. I was actually impressed. Here is a part of the opening monologue:

Life is just too short to waste any chance of true happiness… [My life] seemed like such a tragedy the time. We couldn’t see past our little lives to the greater events of history unfolding our there in the world. I was like a child or a hobbit safe in the shire or a blond farm boy on a distant desert planet, unaware that he was taking the first steps on a path that would lead him relentlessly towards the heart of a conflict between the forces of good and evil. I did what so many men have done throughout history when a woman has broken their heart: I went to war.

I suspect that it sums up most people living in terrible circumstances. They want their life to be a part of a greater struggle between good and evil. And if, when their hearts are broken, they can not find a war to which they can go, then they create an imaginary one.

-Peter

Review of Steve Pavlina’s “Personal Development for Smart People”

S. Pavlina wrote this book, “Personal Development for Smart People,” in the same field as 7 Habits, which I reviewed earlier. The 7 Habits has a somewhat paternal tone, which I think puts off some readers. I like Steve Pavlina’s “Personal Development for Smart People” because it is written much more from the perspective of a young professional in the Internet age. It is not filled with managerial and parental anecdotes, though it does more than flirt with mysticism. I imagine that will put off a different set of readers.

Like Covey, Pavlina tries to capture some of the essential principles that produce a well lived life. The three he settles on are Love, Truth and Power. He explains each, and explains how they relate and combine to produce other important virtues.

His conception of Truth is a little strange – it borders on truthiness at times. Essentially, truth is the alignment of statements and actions with Reality (!?) and the methods of probing reality are vaguely scientific. But for things that can not be probed through empirical means, then Pavlina is perfectly happy to just be pragmatic about which ideas are “true” and which are not. “You shall know them by their fruits,” I take it. True ideas produce good results. For some more metaphysical propositions, that leads to a pretty relativistic conception of Truth. I suppose that doesn’t bother me much, but it might bother some people.

Pavlina takes Love as very broadly defined, and I’m fine with that. He relates love and connectedness in an interesting way.

Power is closely related to responsibility. I think that’s right on the money. Taking responsibility is not the same as being at fault. I think that there is a funny trick of language going on. We say “I am responsible for this situation,” and that means “I am at fault for this situation.”

I wish that there were a better way to say “I am responsible to this situation.” What I mean by that phrase is not that I am at fault, but that my responses to the situation are entirely my choice. I am not at fault for the earthquake (though if I am unprepared, I am at fault for that). I am responsible for all my actions in response to the earthquake. Only when a person is responsible to every aspect of their life (a proactive response-ability) can they hope to have any power in their own life.

My favorite part so far is his perspective on goals. This gave me a minor paradigm shift that was worth ten bucks. Covey and Pavlina both talk about the importance of goal setting. Pavlina makes an excellent point that I had never considered: the metric by which a goal is evaluated is not just whether achieving it would be good. There are lots of things that would be nice to do or have some day, but that are not necessarily good goals. For instance, I would not mind being a millionaire someday, but it is not a good goal for me because it does not excite a deep passion for me.

The litmus test for a good goal is: how does having that goal make you feel and behave right now? Goals are really most important in the immediate present. Being a millionaire would be nice, but I have no hunger for it. The possibility does not excite or motivate me. I am not pumped about it. I just don’t care that much. So it’s not an effective goal.

Finding a good goal that does excite a upwelling of passion is actually harder than it sounds.

Cheers,
Peter

MATLab and Biology

I made a bold prediction today. I predicted that Biology, as a discipline, would adopt MATLab as its computing environment. That may have been overstating things, but still, here’s why I think so:

 

1. Marketing: There are plenty of development environments out there. I’m looking at this from the perspective of a non-programmer. And non-programmers think in terms of “what program do I have to buy to do this?”

Anybody can code in a text editor in C and compile with a free compiler. But it’s not a complete development environment with a box, a price tag, and a user-friendly GUI. Biologists won’t use it. In terms of a packaged development environment, there’s MS Visual Studio, Mathematica, MATLab, Maple, Mathcad and some Open Source projects like SAGE.

2. Function Library. I’ve played with all of those but Maple. In terms of large, pre-made scientific funciton libraries, Mathematica and MATLab come out ahead. And they have a similar learning curve.

3. Math. Mathematica definitely has its advantages. But I don’t think that biologists think in terms of solving boundary value problems symbolically. They think more in terms of Finite Element simulations. Discrete math. That leans toward MATLab.

4. Social network. I suspect that the biologists will turn to their biochemist, chemist and engineer friends for adivce on computing, and they will hear MATLab overwhelmingly. I doubt they will go to
the physicists and mathematicians, where they might hear more about Mathematica.

OK, so MATLab’s the way of the future… what can you do with MATLab?

You can do everything that Excel does (including much nicer graphing options). Plus you can analyze images, spectra, or any other data. Most importantly, when you’ve gone to all that trouble, you can apply it as a loop to other inputs.

Take this for instance. Say you have a fluorescence image of cells. You go to all the trouble of figuring out three data values from that image. Maybe you measure cell count, average cell area, average cell fluorescence brightness. The trouble is that you probably have 100 images. Or you would like to in order to have a publishable result. That will take forever. If you “train” your PC to do that with MATLab, you can just run the program on a whole directory of images and have it spit the results out as an Excel file (if you insist on using Excel). Or a nice graph (it will look better if MATLab makes it).Or you can make a little GUI for your friends. I worked out how to do that in about 3 hours. Next time, 15 minutes.

Quantification is the future, and it is now.

Cheers,
Peter