Some Thoughts

So this blog is getting updated a little more frequently – hopefully, you are finding some useful tips. At this stage, I’m still a mere squidling (undergraduate), so you’re getting a lot of redirects to other awesome things instead of novel ideas, but that’s how life works. Hopefully I’m guiding you to the right places.

My elbow is healing up gradually – I can rotate my wrist almost entirely and my arm can almost straighten. Twisting my arm remains difficult. The progress is promising, but I still can’t lift more than two pounds. Perhaps in two weeks I can meet up with deCycles in Lexington and finish the last 3 days of the ride.

It’s not too bad being back in Bloomington. This weekend I started earnest work on the paper for InPhO. Right now I’m articulating how AI should be used to augment human feedback, without superseding it. I’ve also been working on some user interfaces and came across a really good Google Tech Talk, “Don’t Make Me Click“. Aza Raskin does a great job of emphasizing the importance of minimalist design and of doing as much as possible for your users. I found it worth the hour.

I’ve also been researching polyphasic sleep. Basically instead of sleeping 8 hours in a row, you have a shorter period of “core sleep” and then take 20 minute naps throughout the day. There are variations ranging from 6 hours of core sleep with a 30 minute nap in the day (Biphasic) to no core sleep and 6 20 minute naps throughout the day (Uberman) and a bunch of middle ground (Everyman). The less extreme versions are more pretentious ways of explaining what people do anyways, but the uberman concept is a fascinating extreme. Steve Pavlina has an interesting journal on adopting the uberman (day 30) (day 120) (going back). My roommate seems to have accidentally adopted the everyman system last year.

This month, I’m going to adopt biphasic sleep as my “thing” (although it seems this is how I naturally react to the school year). My only concern with adopting a true polyphasic sleep schedule is physical activity. No reports seem to have a regular exercise routine, and with 150+ miles of biking per week, I think core sleep may play a larger role in muscle recovery. For more findings on sleep, monitor my sleep tag on Delicious.

Some (public domain) visualizations of sleep patterns from Wikipedia:

Firefox Extension Mania!

This month I discovered Firefox extensions! I really hate bogging down my browser, but these are incredibly useful. Know any others? Link it in the comments!

LeechBlock (extension)
This is the best productivity extension ever. It allows you to list a few domains to block (twitter.com, facebook.com, youtube.com, reader.google.com, …) and set up a time period to block them. BUT it also has an option to allow limited access. I have it set up to allow me on my sites for 10 minutes an hour. This keeps me on task, but allows reasonable distractions to clear the mind. It is important to check the “Actively block these sites” option, as that will redirect any already open tabs to these timesinks. I like redirecting to this undistraction page.

GreaseMonkey (extension)
GreaseMonkey is one plugin that I’ve actually stopped using, because it does tend to slow down browsing and can be used maliciously. However, some people may find FB Purity useful. It hides all the annoying quiz applications from showing up in your Facebook newsfeed!

KeyConfig (extension)
KeyConfig is a small extension that allows you to rebind and create new keyboard shortcuts. Things I have done:

  • full screen to F2 – much more convenient placement
  • Evernote Web Clipper to Ctrl+E – much quicker note-taking, see more on Evernote below
    Add new key with this code:
    evernote_addSelectionToEn3(null);

  • bit.ly sidebar to Ctrl+B – quick distribution of cool sites through Twitter
    Add new key with this code:
    content.location = “javascript:var%20e=document.createElement(‘script’);e.setAttribute(‘language’,’javascript’);e.setAttribute(‘src’,’http://bit.ly/bookmarklet/load.js’);document.body.appendChild(e);void(0);”

  • any bookmarklet can be added with:
    content.location = “(bookmarklet code)”

Since I got my netbook, my cloud computing presence has grown exponentially. Syncing between the Sweetness and Little-guy just takes too long to set up and introduces an administrative task I don’t want to deal with. The following extensions increase the utility of the cloud exponentially.

Delicious (extension) (official site)
Delicious replaces my bookmarks menu with an easy to use tagging infrastructure and note taking system accessible through Ctrl+D. By putting my bookmarks on the cloud, I can access them from any computer (useful for continuing research projects in the library). The social networking aspect didn’t seem like a big deal to me, until I started actually using it. Typically our friends share our interests, so it’s not surprising that we would find their bookmarks interesting.

Finally, the Delicious plugin allows you to sync quicksearches across computers (tag things with shortcut:). I have a quicksearch setup to search my delicious bookmarks and to bring up my bookmarks by tag, dramatically increasing the utility of my bookmarks by limiting my search domain to sites I have already flagged as useful. (my quicksearches – feel free to save the interesting ones to your Delicious 🙂 )

Evernote (extension) (official site)
OneNote is a program that Microsoft just got right. Unfortunately, it’s Microsoft and I’ve switched to the Linux world. OneNote was integrated into every part of my computng life – anytime I would put a note into a little text file, it would get tossed into my OneNote instead (phone numbers, quotes, observations, guitar tabs, letter drafting, etc.). Win+N (new note) became my most used shortcut. It is sorely missed – but Evernote has done a respectable job of replacing it.

Evernote is like Onenote in a lot of ways, but it uses a tagging system in lieu of tabbed notebooks and is more ubiquitous, with native clients on almost every platform (Win, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Web). Unfortunately, there is no native Linux client (the Wine version works, but it’s got some ugly buttons). How is it useful to have evernote on your phone? Notes on the go, recording song ideas for later use, taking pictures of receipts or things you want to reference later – the uses are legion.

Back to Firefox though – the web clipper is an awesome extension, as you can highlight any section of a site, click the elephant, and voila! it’s been added to your notebook with a link to the original source. Great for compiling research.

New Feeds

Here’s some new RSS feeds:

Cognitive Science
Neuroantrhopology – Fascinating articles on brain and body. The Wednesday Round-Ups are an overload of awesome articles.
TED Blog – Blog from TED Talks with more information on talks and generally cool stuff

General News
Boston Globe: The Big Picture – The best photojournalism, about 3-4 slideshows a week.

Productivity
LifeHacker – High volume blog filled with cool programs and ideas to help boost productivity
The Simple Dollar – Great blog on personal finances. Make sure to check out his free eBook – “Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance on Just One Page”

For pruning, I’ve unsubscribed from Glenn Greenwald‘s excellent blog. Sometimes you have to recognize when you aren’t actually reading articles. Despite the moral importance of declassifying torture memos, the articles weren’t directly giving me relevant information for this point in my life. Adam should keep sharing the good ones though.

For future reference, I created a master subscription list.

New to RSS or Google Reader? Check out the newly updated How I Do Google Reader

Bike Trip Blues

On June 20th I left for deCycles – 3 weeks, 1600+ miles. no modern comforts. It was going to be my summer… that changed on Monday 🙁

The group was riding in a tight paceline of about 20mph to get to the last break of the day. The girl in front of me kissed wheels with the person in front of her, lost her balance and went down. I ran over her and flipped onto the pavement. The colonel fishtailed into both of us. Everyone got out of the road as quickly as possible and started washing their wounds.

With my bike out of commission, I hopped in the wussie wagon 🙁 When I got into the van I realized my right arm had no strength and was in serious pain. Norm looked at it during the break, and diagnosed it as the radius. We tried to get me back on the bike but I couldn’t stretch into a riding position.

The last 30 miles in the wagon were torture! Monday was the first day I had the right amounts of nutrition, water, and sleep. I also pulled for 10 miles. We were only 3 miles from the last break, and 30 miles from the churh. I had just gotten my second wind and was ready to go.

When I got to Portsmouth, another of the ride leaders dropped me off at the ER. After 3 1/2 hours the diagnosis was a radial head fracture. The hospital was packed, but they noticed I was bonking and got me supper – two sandwiches, a salad and a slice of cherry pie. After 80 miles of riding and no food in 7 hours, I was extremely grateful!

Mom freaked out when she heard about the accident and drove to help me. The next morning we saw a specialist in Portsmouth who said it wasn’t fractured, which contradicted the earlier diagnoses. Bloomington Bone & Joint looked at it today and confirmed the radial head fracture and got me set up with physical therapy. No cast, because setting the elbow would freeze the joint and the fracture is stable.

My elbow is going to need six weeks to heal, so I would’ve spent the rest of the trip in the van. That wasn’t going to happen – it’s torture when you’re well. I’m back in Bloomington for now and would love to see people. If I recover quickly, I will rejoin the ride from Lexington to Bloomington.

As for the others: The girl was bleeding a lot, and now has a really bad case of road rash down her left side. The colonel just toppled and may have done something to his wrist. Both are on their bikes and still riding.

There were 2 other wrecks on Monday. The other people look more roughed up. Cricket got run over and one of the bikes from that wreck now has a pancake wheel. Fortunately, there are two doctors traveling with us and the others seemed to be fine, aside from road rash. Not the best day for cycling…

Pictures


On Friday I got the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS (Amazon). I’m really pleased with it – the form factor is amazingly small and it feels sturdy. Despite its small size, it packs a ton of features – 12 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom, view finder, 2.5″ LCD, HDMI out and a full gamut of image options that I’ll be exploring soon. Thus far, it earns high accolades.


I’ve been using Google Picasa to do simple photo editing (just crops and straightening so far). I like the suite’s usability and the hassle-free uploading to Blogger and Picasa Web Albums (and Facebook on Windows). One strange thing about Picasa is that it doesn’t actually save edits to the file directly – rather it stores the transformations in library files. This preserves the originals and saves disk space, but can be confusing when you open the file in a different program and notice your edits are gone. The Export button saves the edited pictures to your hard drive. The other export options also just send the edited picture. It’s a good system, but something to be aware of if you want to move to other image software.


More can be found at my Picasa web album.

Doin Thangs

I do a lot of things. I also have some major focus issues. This combination can lead to a lot of overwhelming stress from procrastination, and for a long time I lived bouncing from one task to the other as due dates arrived.

Last semester I finally discovered how to overcome these issues by forming small habits from the Zen to Done system. The most significant tip was that time management doesn’t involve rigid scheduling. Instead, time management is just smart planning. By focusing each week around a few “big rocks” and each day around a few “most important things” (MITs), my workload suddenly became manageable.

One of the key ingredients to following through with this system is tracking what we do in a day. It’s easy to look back on your week and say “I didn’t get anything done” without realizing the little things that were really accomplished. Joe’s Goals is a simple productivity website to help record progress. You create categories for what you do in a day (work, homework, reading, cooking, housekeeping, socializing, exercising, etc…) and when you spend a chunk of time working on that goal you just click on the box to add a checkmark.

For me, a check represents about 2 hours of work – a math problem set, a lab report, a 20-mile bike ride, 2 hours of chillaxing, grocery shopping, doing laundry… I’ve discovered that I can accomplish 4-6 things in a typical day. Any less than 4 and I’ve been wasting time, any more than 6 and I’ll burn out. In the morning I make a quick list of the five things I’m going to accomplish, and then do them. By recognizing I only have 5 slots in a given day I can actually accomplish everything in a week through good time management. If I have more things to do in a week than I have space for, I can prioritize and delegate before they become an issue, mitigating stress.

For inspiration, here are my categories:

  • homework (math and science homework)
  • reading (humanities homework)
  • work-work (consulting)
  • research
  • cook
  • house (cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • social
  • bike
  • self (journaling, reflection, etc.)

I also maintain 3 LogBooks:

  • wake (time I get out of bed)
  • what I did (note on what I did to earn each check)
  • sleep (time I go to bed)

We can also have negative categories to discourage our vices – mine is for skipping class. Each time I consider skipping the negative check makes me consider whether I am skipping out of laziness or because I really have something else to do to offset that check.

It’s a simple, elegant solution. I use Joe’s Goals because most of my work is online, but you can use the same system with old-school pen and paper, as Ben Franklin did. I still struggle with procrastination, and occassionally I get overloaded, but by adopting this system I’ve learned how to get things done.

Master Subscription List

This is a master list of my RSS subscriptions for use with Google Reader or other feed aggregators, along with some notes. Smaller text means the feed has been unsubscribed to. Links go directly to the feed, although I may change that to have just the icon point to the feed. New to RSS or Google Reader? How I Do Google Reader

General News
Boston Globe: The Big Picture – The best photojournalism, about 3-4 slideshows a week.
Astronomy Picture of the Day – excellent images from NASA that truly inspire discovery
Yahoo! News Top Stories – aggregate of AP, Reuters and AFP headlines. Feed just prints leading sentence and picture. Gives a good overview of what the mass media is talking about. High volume, low clickthrough.

Humor – mostly webcomics
Calvin & Hobbes – Bill Waterson’s genius, delivered daily 🙂
chainsawsuit – awesome one-off jokes
Dinosaur Comics – philosophical quandries involving dinosaurs
Hark! A Vagrant! – Kate Beaton writes comics about history
Nedroid Picture Diary – reginald and beartato!!!
Overcompensating – fairly classic, not-so-classy.
PhD Comics – adventures in academia
pictures for sad children – “this comic makes me happy, but then it makes me sad”
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – often perverse one-off jokes
T-Rex is Lonely – spinoff of Dinosaur Comics and Garfield Minus Garfield
Thinkin Lincoln – the adventures of Lincoln’s disembodied head. After all, Space Trips are only A Question of Science in the Two-Party System 🙂 [bonus win]
xkcd – geeky jokes
Something Awful – good long-form humor
Apokalips – I like this comic. It is fairly new to the scene.
passive-agressive notes – Saw this site at NACAP two weeks ago during the Facebook Forum. If you like this kind of thing, you should subscribe.
Zero Punctuation – Yahtzee, the British-born Australia-based video game reviewer, is an unending source of comedy gold: Sims 3 review

Notes: For more humor blogs check out posts by my friends Banjaloupe and Carlo Angiuli.

IU – local awareness
IU General News – feed from the Indiana.edu homepage
Indiana Daily Student – mostly for lulz
IU Cognitive Science News – announcements for IU CogSci undergrads
IU Computer Science Department – funnily enough, this has very little traffic. The CS website really could use an update.
IU School of Informatics
Bloomington VeloNews – Bloomington cycling news and information
The Robin – student-run satire magazine

Politics – for the obsessed
First Read – MSNBC’s political analysis blog, lots of volume. Good feel for what’s going on in Washington right now.
Five Thirty Eight – amazing analysis by Nate Silver. Started as an election prediction site, but has evolved into a lot more.
David Brooks – the only sane conservative columnist
Paul Krugman Blog – one of the most influential economists of our times. His daily political musings are interesting and often turn me to other cool resources.
Paul Krugman – his New York Times opeds
The Economist: InternationalThe Economist is one of my favorite print magazines, and the international section is the best part of it.
The Economist: The world this week – Worth subscribing to regardless of interest in politics, as it provides an excellent summary of the world each week.
GOOD transparency – great section of an online magazine with infographs (example: first 100 days of the presidency from Roosevelt to Obama )
Glenn Greenwald – great investigative reporter for Salon, currently investigating Obama’s civil liberties policy. Always eye opening.

Tech
Ars Technica – moderate volume, high quality. Great articles on everything technology
AnAndTech – hardware reviews and industry reports
Wired Top News – Fills the void in tech reporting that Ars Technica doesn’t cover. Great general geeky science stuff.
reddit in general

Products – these are just for updates on interesting products and companies.
Google Blog
Facebook Blog
Evernote Blog
bit.ly Blog

Weather
Atlantic Hurricanes – because hurricanes are freakin awesome
Indiana – Monroe/INZ062 – local watches and warnings
Kentucky – Calloway/KYZ009 – watches and warnings from back home
Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog – Weather articles from Dr. Jeff Masters, meteorologist and storm chaser.
Note: NOAA watch/warning information can be found by state or by county. Click on the XML button on the far right of your state’s row and then find your county.

CogSci
Mind Hacks – AMAZING blog about all things to do with the mind. They have a post every other week entitled “Brain Spikes” that just link to a ton of interesting articles.
Cognitive Daily – low-volume blog on random topics in cognition.
Neuroantrhopology – Fascinating articles on brain and body. The Wednesday Round-Ups are an overload of awesome articles.
Neurophilosophy – good blog on the brain and philosophy from Science Blogs.
TED Blog – Blog from TED Talks with more information on talks and generally cool stuff

Productivity
The Art of Nonconformity – This guy is awesome, and wants everyone else to be awesome too. I agree. Chris has some unconventional ideas on how to be awesome, but that’s because awesomeness is unconventional. His life-manifesto “A Brief Guide for World Domination” is definitely worth reading. He also travels a bit. Start with the articles listed on his writings page, they’re pretty cool.
Soul Shelter – Great blog about connecting with others in the modern, technological world. Required reading: In Defense of Solitude (Part 1, Part 2)
The Simple Dollar – Great blog on personal finances. Make sure to check out his free eBook – “Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance on Just One Page”
Study Hacks – good blog on becoming a better student, following many of the principles established by the rest of my Productivity section: doing less is more (to an extent)
Zen Habits – Excellent productivity blog which spawned the Zen to Done (ZTD) system, a more practical version of Getting Things Done (GTD). See how I’ve implemented part of it: Doin Thangs.
LifeHacker – High volume blog filled with cool programs and ideas to help boost productivity

Jaimie Murdock
Shared Items
The Long Cut

How I Do Google Reader

Google Reader is the single best tool on the Internet. There is a ton of news and information on the Internet, but people don’t know how to manage the onslaught of constantly changing content. Instead of taking advantage of the real-time nature of the web, they continue to utilize print, television and radio to get their current events, humor, music news, research publications, etc. often wasting time waiting for stories that interest them.

In Google Reader you subscribe to websites you are interested in, just like a magazine subscription. There are several ways to subscribe:

  1. In Google Reader, click the add a subscription button and enter the website URL or search terms and Google will find the feed for you.
  2. Just look for the RSS Icon and click on it. In Firefox this will bring you to a view of the feed. Just select Google from the list of subscription options and then click subscribe now.
  3. This icon may also appear in your browser’s address bar. Click it and you will be given subscription options.

In addition to giving you relevant information, Google Reader has a social aspect which allows you to share articles with your friends and see their shared articles. It’s a great way to foster discussion and helps us come across content we would not otherwise see. These shared items can be imported to Facebook, further extending their reach.

Google Reader has been a boon for my productivity – I no longer compulsively check sites for updates, they come to me. The trends feature allows me to look at what I’m really reading and determine whether my subscriptions are really worth it. Shared items have promoted hundreds of conversations. My morning routine now begins with an hour on Google Reader, like Granddad’s newspaper reading.

How do you pick good feeds? Well you can start with websites and blogs you normally visit. From there, add your friends blogs and put them in a Friends folder. As you add blogs, consider their volume and quality. The best feeds are low-volume and high-quality, where nearly every article is a must-read. Some feeds are meant for scrutinizing, while others are meant for skimming headlines.

Here are some essential feeds: (for more check out my Master Subscription List)

General News
Yahoo! News Top Stories – aggregate of AP, Reuters and AFP headlines. Feed just prints leading sentence and picture. Gives a good overview of what the mass media is talking about. High volume, low clickthrough.
Boston Globe: The Big Picture – The best photojournalism, about 3-4 slideshows a week.

IU – local awareness
IU General News – feed from the Indiana.edu homepage
Indiana Daily Student – mostly for lulz

Politics
First Read – MSNBC’s political analysis blog, lots of volume. Good feel for what’s going on in Washington right now.
The Economist: InternationalThe Economist is one of my favorite print magazines, and the international section is the best part of it.
The Economist: The world this week – Worth subscribing to regardless of interest in politics, as it provides an excellent summary of the world each week.
GOOD transparency – great section of an online magazine with infographs (example: first 100 days of the presidency from Roosevelt to Obama )

Tech
Ars Technica – moderate volume, high quality. Great articles on everything technology

Cognitive Science
Mind Hacks – AMAZING blog about all things to do with the mind. They have a post every other week entitled “Brain Spikes” that just link to a ton of interesting articles.
TED Blog – Blog from TED Talks with more information on talks and generally cool stuff

Productivity
LifeHacker – High volume blog filled with cool programs and ideas to help boost productivity
The Simple Dollar – Great blog on personal finances. Make sure to check out his free eBook – “Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance on Just One Page”
Zen Habits – Excellent productivity blog which spawned the Zen to Done (ZTD) system, a more practical version of Getting Things Done (GTD). See how I’ve implemented part of it: Doin Thangs.

Final tip: Review your feeds every month and try to eliminate 10% of your feeds to reduce your volume. I often find myself unsubscribing from great feeds because I’m not actually reading them, and because there are friends who will fill that gap through shared items.

If you know of more useful feeds or have any Reader tips, feel free to comment!

Jaimie Murdock
Shared Items
The Long Cut
Master Subscription List

Reboot

Hey everyone,

I’ve decided to restart blogging with the general concept of “anything goes”. It’s summer now, so I should be able to update regularly.

Sophomore year is over, and it was rather disappointing. Up until now, I’ve been able to take on more than usual and still do absolutely fine. This year I finally found my limit (or it found me). The scariest thing was discovering that I forgot how to write! Next year I’ll be dropping down to a much more manageable 13 hours a semester and begin recovering what’s left of my GPA. C’est la vie.

For the first half of the summer I’ll be working on three things:

  1. Finishing up work on the Power of Logic (PoL) web tutor.
  2. Doing supercomputing research for the Indiana Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO).
  3. Training for deCycles 2009.

For PoL, I’ll be working on some new applets for argument diagramming. I’ve decided to go with Java for this, since I’m starting to get a decent grasp on the swing libraries and have a general disdain for Flash. You can expect at least one post on swing… I’ll also be relearning C for the InPhO parallelization research. Since it’s summer and I can code for fun as well, I’ll be refining my Python skills too.

This summer is hardly confined to the “great indoors” (thank god). In June I’m leaving for a 1500-mile bike tour from Bloomington, IN to Appalachia. We’ll be traveling across the Bluegrass to the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway. After reaching Asheville, NC, we’ll head through Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, back through Tennessee and Kentucky, and then back home again. It should be an epic time, but it requires a lot of training. I’m aiming for 1200 miles by June 20, and I’ll be uploading pics from the road.

I’ve made an effort to tie this blog with the rest of my “cloud” presence. To the right you’ll find streams of my Google Reader shared items, del.icio.us bookmarks and Twitter updates. Hopefully they are useful. I’ve also added some friends who occasionally blog. They’re pretty cool. Please subscribe/follow/bookmark/remember the blog, I’ll make it worthwhile.

Peace,
Jaimie Murdock