I just upgraded to a new retina Macbook Pro, and everything looks gorgeous … except SPSS. Academia is notorious for apps that don’t get updated all that often for looks. Retinizer is a free OS X app that will attempt to replace all the non-retina resources in a Cocoa app with retina ones. It works great on SPSS, less well on apps that aren’t fully Cocoa-ized (HyperResearch, I’m looking at you).
What to do about apps that still look bad? Kick up your resolution - the new MBPs can go up to 1680x1050 to make a big, if less pretty, workspace. Menu bar app Eye-Friendly ($5) can make that process a little easier.
Thanks to popular interest (who knew?) I’m taking a second stab at my GTD trigger list for academics. So, go on the doc, add stuff to your heart’s content, and let’s see if we can get something complete and useful going.
I spent the day updating computers and phones and tablets and apps, all the while trying to remember that this was all oriented toward making my life better, somehow. Now I’m exhausted, and left to reflect on whether it really does.
Of course, iOS 7 is a big step forward, and one I suspect will actually do me more good than harm long term. I don’t know that I can say the same thing, though, for all my tools, some of which demand just as much or more time and attention. So, as I add a new experience with shiny new apps, I’m also looking today for what I can subtract, what I can be less dependent on, reducing the number of things that are allowed to disappoint me, and making some careful decisions about what I really need.
“In every society, democratic or totalitarian, the sensible, grown-up thing to do is to commit to the long haul of sleazy conformity. The rewards are mostly guaranteed: if not freedom or happiness, then respectability and degree of security. What spoils it is the obstinate few who do otherwise – those, absurdly, who actually believe in the necessary fictions; enough to be moved and angered by the difference between what an organisation does in reality and what it says in public.”—
Christopher Yates, on the factors which made Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning non-complicit, their relationship to mental health and mental abnormality and moral courage. A great read.
(Note: the article was written before Chelsea’s name and pronoun change was public, so it does refer to her as Bradley. Given when it was written, I don’t think its author is culpable in the same way people who still refuse to acknowledge Chelsea’s preference are).
The content is by itself reprehensible. But think about where it appeared: Medium, the Internet’s newest hot collaborative blogging platform for talking about your VC and Making Better Mistakes and whatever else can be copied from the new Seth Godin book. In a venue exclusively for the enfranchised, used primarily for the enfranchised to pontificate endlessly on what they’re not making, one of the fold comes in and tells a series of cheap parlor jokes. He’s got no sense of the repercussions of that kind of thing because those repercussions aren’t built into the community.
So, make today your day to blow the dust out of your RSS feeder or Tumblr follow list. Follow more interesting and representative communities. Follow places where people talk about important things. Follow places where people actually make things.
Stabilo makes another one of the old school chisel highlighters, not unlike the Staedtler Textsurfer. Still, a bunch of tiny design features make this highlighter a lot less useful. The barrel’s just a little too short to fit in my hand, the cap doesn’t post well at all, the lines of the highlighter are just a bit too thin to fit a full line (hence my staggering across the page), and it makes that annoying marker sound. Give it a miss.
The designers have done a nice job keeping this barrel largely unobtrusive: there’s plenty of writing for sure, but it basically fades into the background. The marker puts out a nice, unobtrusive florescent color, handles ballpoint ink pretty well, has a nice sharp writing point, and is super affordable: $1.65 for the body, and $2 for 3 (!) refills. This is likely the most inexpensive highlighter we reviewed so far, and is definitely a step up from anything you’d find at Staples.
So, what don’t I like about it? Using the highlighter makes a very clear noise. You can hear the drag of marker against paper, in a way you can’t hear on the Tombow or on some of the chisel highlighters. This noise, truth be told, drives me bonkers: it doesn’t provide helpful feedback, it’s loud (especially in really quiet environments like libraries, where you might be highlighting) and it really seems the purview of much worse equipment.
If you can deal with the noise (heck, some people might like that sort of thing), if you want something easy to refill or easy to lose, or if you highlight a lot, the Spotliter’s a great choice that will serve you well. Otherwise, you can do better.
Every kit has a place, in my book, for both the beautiful and the useful. Tombow’s Kay Coat dual point highlighter delivers on the former for sure, but really shines in its versatility and durability.
The black barrel is a nice change from all the transparent and bright yellow highlighter barrels I’ve got in my coffee mug, especially among the pen-shaped highlighters. Yes, there’s way too much writing going on here - just about all of which I can’t read. Still, the black and yellow play off each other nicely, and would make it easy to tell this one apart from other colors.
The marker’s two points are a broad chisel point on the clip end and a thin pen point on the other end. The chisel end is protected by a plastic sheath on the top and the bottom which is both attractive and pretty functional: it stays out of the way while still preserving that sharp chisel angle. The thin point is probably intended primarily for underlining, but I found I could actually write with it, in small doses, on page margins at about the width of a 0.7 ballpoint. Both caps post onto each other or can be left off entirely.
The ink in the pen is quite impressive. The color is florescent, but not sickly in the way that the Pilot FriXion looks on the page. Against ballpoint, there’s minimal blurring of the lines: not perfect, but some of the best I’ve seen from out-of-the-box highlighters.
Plus, the ink’s refillable. The refills are a little hard to find - here’s one at Writer’s Bloc - but they’re notable for their speed and no-mess design, like the Staedler but much faster. Each highlighter boasts the ability to be refilled five times, and each tank holds ten charges, bringing you to a little over twelve bucks for twelve fills - a deal you’re not gonna beat even with the generics at Office Max.
Even as a big fan of the big chisel highlighter, I still think there’s a lot of room for these pen shaped markers - in pencil cases, in bags, and in your pocket as you’re leaving the house. In this form factor, you can’t do better.
The biggest problem with the highlighters we have, in my view, is their look. Too many highlighters have loud, obnoxious barrels that look completely out of place beside a sophisticated arsenal of pens and pencils. Uni’s Promark View, a chisel highlighter, is something very different.
From the moment it comes out of the package, this highlighter looked better than any I’d ever seen. About 4 inches tall, it stands on the desk upside down on its cap. The barrel is black with a very small logo (I found this logo to rub off rather easily under regular use - I think this is actually a positive, but your milage may vary). The cap posts quite nicely on the end. Then there’s the point.
The chief feature of this highlighter is the transparent point, which Uni calls a “window” and which lets you see what text is under the highlighter point as you run it across the page. This works great as a feature, but it also creates a unique-looking product, with that small line running ink to the marker tip. The plastic also serves to protect the point over time, a feature we’ll see in one or two more highlighters in the coming weeks.
The ink color, while not quite as nice as the Staedtler, is still a rich yellow, and doesn’t look too jarring to my eyes. It works quite well on both printed pages and ballpoint ink. The plastic used to make the barrel is somewhat textured; the barrel’s shape is also an oblong oval. Both of these helped me create straight lines across the page.
I wish the highlighter were refillable, because it will seem a shame to throw this body away. Still, I’ve got no reservations about this one: the Promark View is the best highlighter I’ve ever used, and is perfect for your desk.
It was my shaky, over-caffeinated hand that first drew me to the Pilot FriXion highlighter. Like its namesake pens, Pilot has put a special ink in this pen that can be erased with a rubber tip. And that tip is effective - at erasing my shaky-handed highlighting mistakes on otherwise blank paper.
It’s elsewhere that the eraser suffers. As you can see in the photos, the highlighter eraser leaves unsightly marks and blurring on both printed pages and ballpoint ink (ballpoint is fine for most other highlighters). Further, the eraser is on the end of the marker, which means it’s covered entirely if you prefer to post the cap. Add all this to a barrel that’s just ridiculously busy, and you can do much better.
I wanted to review gel highlighters for you, in the interest of completeness. Gel highlighters are made of wax, much like a crayon, and you roll them down to expose the surface, much like a stick of deodorant. They’re designed to be good at highlighting thin pages, like Bibles or dictionaries, and prevent ink smearing on water-based ink. Trouble is, they’re literally a blunt instrument, so they’re not very exacting in highlighting everything else.
I was all prepared to order some gels from all corners of the Internet when I realized the hassle of comparing all these products, which was too much even for me. It was seem no gel highlighters are widely available in physical stores or from the domestic importers - except the Sharpie Gel Highlighter. This thing’s available everywhere, it’s affordable, and it’ll get the job done. If you need a gel highlighter for some specialized reason, I’d say get one of these.
Like a lot of people, I came to stationery nerd-dom by way of gadgets, and the Kokuyo Beetle Tip hit those buttons. A crazy point on the end of the marker gives you the option to use a chisel point, fine point or two parallel fine points on the top and bottom of the line. The Beetle Tip may be the most innovative idea for a highlighter there is. I’m not sure it’s the best.
The body of the Beetle Tip is a simple, capped pen-style. Its most notable feature is the three windows near the bottom of the barrel, which advertise its myriad features. I find the detail on the barrel a little too busy for my taste, but the cap posts nice, and the marker is light enough to be flexible.
The ink doesn’t offer much to write home about. It’s a fairly florescent yellow both in artificial and in natural light. Its best performance was on handwriting - there’s no running I can detect.
Artificial light, printed text.
Natural light, printed text.
Artificial light, handwriting.
And then there’s that crazy point. No doubt, the option to have three different highlighting styles is cool, and they’re each remarkably easy to use - a few minutes of practice, and my hand intuited the right way to turn the highlighter to get my desired effect. Still, I’m not quite sure what that third mark - the double line - is for. Maybe with time and thought I could develop a highlighting system that would let me use that information to better navigate a page. But there’s no intuitive one.
If you like toys, or if you have a need for flexibility in your highlighting, the Kokuyo Beetle Tip is a nice addition to any pencil case.
It only seemed fair to begin my series of highlighter reviews (from which I will render a verdict on THE BEST HIGHLIGHTER later this summer) with something that looked like what my stereotype of a highlighter should be: blocky, neon yellow and stubby.
Staedtler’s Textsurfer Classic feels like the old kid on the block. The rectangular design allows for a huge ink reservoir, the ink is built to handle nearly any kind of paper or writing, the chisel tip goes as wide as 5 mm, and a clever refill system lets you dunk the marker in a tank of mystery ink and wait for it to fill itself.
The body shape is one of my biggest challenges using this highlighter. My natural grip is to hold the marker with my thumb and forefinger on either of its long sides, dragging the highlighter across the page. There’s a textured top to the highlighter at this orientation; placing your forefinger on this area allows you to tilt the highlighter and keep more control over line thickness. With practice, I’ve gotten better at this technique, but I still felt relatively little control over where the marker landed on the page. Additionally, if you’re someone who likes pencil cases, this might be a tough fit.
The ink boasts a quick drying time and is pressurized, preventing leakage on airplanes. Though I didn’t test it, Staedtler claims the purple and turquoise colors are photo-copier proof as well, letting you highlight an original without marks on a copy. I found the color of the ink to look fairly florescent in artificial light (comparable to the barrel) and to turn a little bit more yellow in natural light. The ad copy is right: the ink dries lightning fast, and I didn’t have any smearing issues on either printed paper or writing. There’s essentially no bleeding, even on my thin textbook paper.
Natural light, printed page
Artificial light, printed page
Artificial light, handwriting
The Textsurfer is a great choice for the power user. It will last you forever, its refill system is ingenious, and it’s cheap, at about a buck and a half a throw. If you can get used to holding it, you’d have a hard time finding a highlighter that better balances ubiquity with performance.
My friend Jay Frosting was kind enough to give me a platform on his podcast this week to goof off with one of my Internet heroes, comedian Avery Edison. You should go listen to it, because both Jay and Avery are hilarious, and I do a competent job of not getting in their way. But, once you’re done, pay a little bit more attention, because Avery’s a pretty great example of what you can do when your work is fearless.
To make something that’s funny, or serious, or tragic, or clever, you have to make something that risks complete incomprehensibility, and risks making you incomprehensible too. To make something that’s funny and serious and tragic and clever, you have to do that times a thousand. Avery does that over and over and over again. What comes out is a voice that’s whip-smart, utterly of our time and opinionated as hell.
“Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.”—Paul Krugman, How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled
A new feature on Semicolons.net for both fun and profit by yours truly. Got questions about the best pens, pencils, paper or other office supplies for your special snowflake needs? Use the contact form in that there link. It’s gonna be fun.
ProfHacker Jason B. Jones on Merlin Mann’s recent discourses on tenure and safety nets, developing an academic identity and remaining true to what you want out of the profession of learning.
Good comments here. I think Jason’s a little hard on Merlin, and we talk not nearly enough about the responsibility tenure carries with it, but he makes some good points about understanding yourself in relation to your work.
My 11th Hour, Christmas Eve, Never-Gonna-Happen WWDC Wishlist
Preview on iOS. There is still no good way to read and highlight academic articles on a tablet and sync them up with highlights on a computer (and, yes, I’ve tried everything). If I could easily open the current PDF on my computer on an iPad, and vice versa, that’s the real game changer.
A genuinely easy way to add just about anything to Passbook. Yes, there are some third party utilities that let you add stuff to Passbook, but finding and manually adding latitude and longitude for my passes got old real fast. If Apple wants adoption of Passbook, it’s gotta be for more than the biggest players.
Notification control across all my devices. Now that Notification Center is on OS X and iOS, I wish there was an easy way to see my notifications on the device I’m using, and dismiss them once to dismiss them everywhere. iCloud is 85% of the way there, and with some simple rules, I feel like it could make the last mile.
Multiple monitor full screen support in OS X. Because, seriously, enough with the linen.
If you’re an OS X automation obsessive, you probably use both Hazel (the automatic file organizer and renamer) and IFTTT (the web service which connects various APIs) obsessively. I’m a big fan of both. I’ll often use IFTTT, via Dropbox, to save files from a bunch of different sources and Hazel to put them in place, often by date. What drives me crazy, though, is IFTTT’s dating structure: it writes dates as “June 04, 2013 at 1244PM” instead of “2013-06-04_12-44-00” or something else machine sortable. So, I made some Hazel rules.
These five rules will change out the month name for a digit, then move the numerals around for, in order: files dated with a noon-time hour, files dated with a midnight hour, other AM files and other PM files. Order of the rules matters. You should be able to change the rules based on the date format you prefer. There may be some complex scripting that could do it better, but this seems to work. You can grab it here:
Think about how successful you feel right now. Think about the success, or failure of your big thing. What would make it different?
Now consider whether you’ve pointed the barometer of success in the right direction, and whether that success will really accomplish the flourishing you set out for.
It’s great to be Fireballed, or Metafiltered, or App Store Featured, or whatever bits of public recognition you can imagine. You’ll get a bunch of new eyeballs, at least today. But will those people stick around? Will they do it long enough to make your thing better?
It’s great to hire a direct report, or three, or ten. The work gets easier with many hands. But if you’re motivated right now less by doing your thing, and more by managing people who do your thing, your love for the thing itself is probably waning.
And it’s great to be rich. Wealthy people do a lot of good for the less fortunate. But, come on. You’ve read the evidence. Rich people aren’t happier. They’re often less happy. The management distractions that come from wealth - those take you away from doing your thing, too.
In academia, we think about the small pinpoints by which we advance human knowledge. Our contributions are tiny in the grand scheme. But keeping them that way helps keep us peer-checked members of a community, one whose overall success is regulated by the overriding importance of getting it right before getting it big.
Will you do your thing better tomorrow? Can it feed your family (and I mean really feed them, not buy them designer handbags)? Then you’re successful. Has your improvement stagnated, despite the staff, the eyeballs, or the money? Then you’re not successful yet.
“Art should never be Interesting. Wikipedia is Interesting. Nightmares are Interesting. But to feign Interest in other people’s art is just smug. Don’t be so fond and fatherly about it … The real reason to go to an art gallery is to witness a small number of people elaborate publicly on their own confused striving, beyond explanation or accountability or compromise. You don’t see that just anywhere. In a gallery, one finds all the raw elements of fear and desire, the most dim and keening shapes, smiling strangely from the backyards of awareness and submitted painfully for general inspection. This is not what you might find at, say, Boston Pizza.”—Stupid for Art, Mark Mann
Imagine a carpenter. The carpenter is someone who works with wood to put food on his table. So, the carpenter owns a hammer. It’s probably a very nice hammer. It’s built to be comfortable after thousands of swings a day, and it’s built with the power the carpenter needs to do serious work. It’s likely also an expensive hammer. It’s definitely more expensive than your hammer, and it may be more expensive than your entire tool box. The carpenter understands the value of something he works with every day, and that’s why he spends so much money on the hammer. But he also understands that value is a double-edged sword: he’s committing to the product he knows, that is reliable. He knows he’ll only invest in a new hammer if it brings something dramatically more useful to his work. And he knows no matter what the hammer company does, he’ll always at least have this hammer, as long as he can still swing the handle.
Now imagine you tell the carpenter about Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Remember to duck when he swings the hammer at you.
“So you have not changed the default iPhone e-mail signature line of “Sent from my iPhone”. (Neither have I). Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are just going with the default. You, and me, are really proclaiming something totally different. What we are really saying is: “I’m the kind of person that is available to work all the time, wherever, whenever.”—‘Sent from My iPhone' - Joshua Kim
Many pixels have been spilt over Notational Velocity and nvALT, the twin siblings of editing , organizing and searching a giant directory of text files. For sure, all the reasons for using plain text are really important: versatility, size and permanence. I wanted to add something I haven’t seen talked about though, a mode of thinking that nvALT has brought to my life that has, in many ways, dramatically changed how I deal with the ideas swirling around in my head.
See, like every text nerd, I have a system. My notes are probably longer than most (separated by headings I can navigate in FoldingText if need be), and I use Merlin Mann’s system for naming, often aided by some TextExpander snippets, but because of size and quick searching in nvALT, none of that is really important. If something’s on my mind, I write it down. If something’s on my mind, I write it down.
If something’s on my mind, I write it down.
Oftentimes, that starts on paper, and that’ll get put into nvALT when I get home. Sometimes, that means pressing F16 on my Apple USB Keyboard, making nvALT pop up and type into the box. When I’m good at it, each file has a proper name I can go back and look to later, maybe with some tags that make searching easier and good dating. But, again, that doesn’t matter. Because:
If something’s on my mind, I write it down.
What’s in my nvALT folder? Class notes, book notes, recipes, articles and poems I like, my todo lists, brainstorms for the future, journals from the past. What can be in there? Literally anything I need to stick somewhere to remember or recall later. If I don’t have a system for it yet, if I don’t name it correctly, search means it doesn’t really matter - I’ll find it again when I need it.
I now have a 34.6 MB folder on my hard drive that contains, in essence, the contents of my life’s work and the essence of my memory. When I’m unsure of myself, when I don’t know what to do next, when I’m in some kind of existential funk, I pop open the window, and I start writing.
However unsafe the world feels, at that moment, those files are a reminder (not to get too pretentious) of my existence. They’re a reminder that I’ve had good ideas before, and will have them again. They’re a reminder that beauty exists in the world, that other people have written down for me to digest. They’re a reminder that, when I don’t know quite what to do, I can always do the dishes. And, more than any cliche or saying, they’re a reminder that every new project or idea or day can start with a blank window and a blinking cursor.
A roundup of examples of people opting-out of smartphones (including my prediction about this very thing).
A good summary of bloggers going after the goal, including Stephen Hackett’s aborted attempt to go without an iPhone.
Oddly, there’s a certain social acceptability to being buried in your phone in public places that you lose when you no longer have it. Not looking at a phone (say, just looking around) reads the same way as staring to some people.
For the record, my current everyday carry is: a 4th generation iPod Touch, the smallest dumb phone I can find (sometimes, only when I need a phone) and an analog notebook. Though I guess that puts me in this “movement” towards analog, I feel a little silly labeling myself the Luddite. I still have an insanely powerful pocket computer connected to a global communications network, it just can’t get to that network through satellites in space.
Creativity & The Intellectual Life in 'On Taking Pictures'
In pursuit of a new creative hobby, I’ve been picking up photography in earnest (you can go to my Flickr page and see my accidentally out-of-focus work) and, like anything else I’m into, I’ve picked up a podcast to teach me more. On Taking Pictures is hosted by Jeffery Saddoris, the curator of a photography blog, and Bill Wadman, a professional portrait photographer: their rapport is great and they’ve got lots of good knowledge about equipment I can’t afford. But, whether you take pictures or not, I think you should listen to the show for the way Wadman and Saddoris talk about the creative life.
These guys are honest. Relentlessly honest. They’re honest about their successes, their failures, their partners, their doubts, their aspirations and their limitations. As they regularly describe, they spend good portions of the show talking about “why you take pictures,” which is metaphorically related, of course, to why one creates anything. The academics in the audience will notice some clear parallels: Imposter Syndrome, the (at times spurious) relationship between depression and creativity, the relentless focus on new perspectives and challenges, on freshness.
“Nobody cares what kind of smartphone you believe in. It’s not a religion. It’s not your local sports team even. Stop being a soldier. You are not a soldier. You are just wrong. Shut up. You there, with the blog, in the comments, in the pages of the newspaper or the magazine or on Twitter or Facebook. Whatever your opinion is, as soon as you employ it in partisan fashion, it’s deeply and profoundly wrong. Just by sharing it, you are wrong. And nobody cares. Except for the people who do. And they are wrong too. Myself included. “But, but, but,” I hear you stammering like some sort of horrible person who has mistaken a code base for a system of moral beliefs, “the screen is too big and not big enough.” No. You’re wrong. It’s just right. It’s just right for whoever is holding it, unless it’s not, in which case they’ll decide that it is wrong on their own and get a different one. And then they’ll be right, while you’ll still be wrong.”—Mat Honan, Please Stop Fighting About Your Smartphone
A new episode of our podcast comes out today, and I hope you’ll give this one a listen. Here, I go on a rant about first dates and taking risk, but it’s generally a conversation about one’s level of engagement with the world, so other implications abound.
Listen, send comments, help us start a conversation.
“If you give half a damn about which multi-billion-dollar corporation “wins” a totally made-up contest, then you need to drop acid and spend some time in an ashram.”—Andy Ihnatko, on why your phone choice should be what’s right for you and not what’s right for them
This quote, and the story which surrounds it, are quickly becoming a joke. And they should. This was, without question, a ridiculous thing for anyone who expects to be taken seriously in public to say.
It’s hardly the first time, though, that a “big conversation” about technology has been a lot less about the user wants to do and a lot more about what the user is trying to project. Smartphones don’t do anything to you. They don’t emasculate you, or demonstrate your savvy, or show your willingness to care about what you use, or any of it. They’re pieces of aluminum and glass. They don’t have personality: you do.
Even if you’re not one who keeps up with college football - and I’m certainly not - it’s been hard to miss the story of Manti Te’o, the all star Notre Dame linebacker who was either the victim of or a participant in an elaborate hoax involving a fake girlfriend, her supposed tragic death and his willingness to continue playing football rather than attending her funeral. That such a choice, such a “sacrifice” made such a poignant story, that we expect Te’o to "impress us" so soon after it all fell apart, says a great deal about the culture of the world in which he lives, and a great deal about its contrasts with mine.
To hitch one’s future to football, as Te’o has, is to make an impactful choice. There are, after all, only so many years, only so many games. It seems ridiculous to suggest that Te’o’s future would be sunk by missing a game to go to his girlfriend’s funeral … but not so ridiculous under the terms of that culture. 12 college games a season, for four seasons, are all you have to make it into the NFL. 12 NFL games a season with (somewhere between) 4 and 12 years to make a career, make enough money to last you and (likely) several struggling members of your family for the rest of their lives. It’s a culture that glorifies, by design, that drive, that purposiveness, from a young age.
It’s hard not to contrast those messages with the ones of my upbringing. I’m 24 and, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told about all the time I’ll have left, all the opportunities I have now to explore and get to know the world, the luxuries of youth and the wastefulness of spending too much time right now sweating what I should be. If I had listened to those voices more than I actually did, of course, I wouldn’t be in graduate school. But even here, there’s a sense I shouldn’t be too hasty, shouldn’t be so certain, shouldn’t jump into life and permanence and commitment until I know all of who I am.
We come from very different places, Te’o and I. And, while I suspect he’ll make more money his first year in the NFL than I’ll make over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot more permission and ability up to this point to make mistakes. I certainly have a lot less people with vested personal and financial interest in manufacturing for me a hero’s story. There must be some happy medium between those two extremes, between the philosophy of my world that tells me that life begins at 30, and the philosophy of Te’o’s that has already suggested to him that his will end at 30. Neither one of us, at this stage, is allowed to live in a space where our feelings can be considered fully real. And, in that sense, neither one of us is really all that free.
“Once, I was so good at forming opinions that I could whore them for small cash rewards.”—Robin Ince writes for the Observer on the death of evidence at the hands of opinion and punditry. Killer piece.
I realize that different people enter the academy for different reasons: some love to teach; others might prefer collaborative projects to individual essays; another group welcomes the use of technology in the humanities. I respect all these modes of intellectual work and have enjoyed taking part in them. Yet as I explore alternatives to the mythical tenure-track job—where, so I’d been told, some of the time is dedicated to research and thinking—I find no true alternatives. Apart from (some) graduate programs, there is no institutional framework that supports sustained, independent thinking, thinking that is tied neither to economic nor political considerations.
This phenomenon is as bad, if not worse, in the social sciences. And it’s troubling.
So, I haven’t been paying a ton of attention to the news this week, but here’s what I’ve gotten so far:
Apple (you know, the company that makes computers and phones and stuff) made a lot of money last quarter. Some people think they didn’t make enough money, but other people think they made plenty of money, and they may or may not have made as much money as companies who are just like them. From what I gather, this means either that Apple is doomed to go bankrupt any day now or that they are the world’s most impressive enterprise. Tim Cook should be either knighted as our new philosopher king or left out in the mountains to die at the hands of wolves. I’ve also gathered that Jony Ivy is involved somehow.
Funny thing, though. I turned on my Macbook this morning and … it’s almost as if none of that happened. It’s almost as if a corporation’s quarterly earnings have nothing to do with how well my technology works. It’s almost as if all those people talking about money are mostly interested in making more money and not so much interested in computers.
“In a certain sense I am a social scientist in everyday life whenever I reflect upon my fellow men and their behavior instead of merely experiencing them.”—Alfred Schutz, Phenomenology of the Social World
But the problem that occurs is that it can be a huge mental lease we’re signing when we invite a few hundred people into our Twitter life. To some degree, it is choosing to subject ourselves to thousands of ads throughout the day, but ones that come from trusted sources we care about, so they’re actually impactful.
Even if the people we know aren’t explicitly selling things (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or Promoting their Personal Brand™ (there is everything wrong with that), we’re still choosing to accept their stream of one-second ads with *some* kind of message all day.
We’ve surrendered a massive amount of mental and emotional energy without making the explicit choice to do so—it’s simply imposed on us by subscribing to the channel and checking it.
You’re probably thinking I like that you use a paper notebook. That it’s a signal that I have your full attention and you won’t distracted while we meet. But if you are here to discuss the personal crisis that has affected your work, or to tell me that you have been harboring unprofessional feelings about me, we won’t need any kind of notebook at all. The fact that you are carrying any kind of notebook tells me that this isn’t one of those conversations. We’re here to get things done. So bring the tools that will help us do that.
Except … Alexandra Samuel is the author of a book on Evernote - which gets linked twice in the piece, by the way, a fact you might lose amidst the morass of assumptions she makes about how paper notebooks are just a front to look like a special snowflake of a meeting participant.
Gabe has some good thoughts on this, and Scott Berkun does too. My take: I’m obsessively, nerd-ily interested in conversations about questions like when its ideal to use digital or analog capture tools. Obviously, I also really enjoy conversations about what those capture tools are, and which ones are the best.
But those conversations about our work: they’re a game. A fun game, for sure, maybe even a valuable game and an opportunity to learn … but just a game. What works for you works for you, period. What works today may not work tomorrow, and that’s okay too. When I’m judging if someone is using their tools well, I’m much more interested in whether they’re curious about those tools than whether they’re a fundamentalist.
Without a Smartphone 1: The Notebook and my Front Right Pocket
It’s been about two weeks now since my somewhat startling revelation that my smart phone was probably giving me more grief than joy. Keeping up with apps, syncing files, watching my data usage, feeling inferior about the progress of Android, all of it was getting in the way of the mental clarity that I really cherish. It’s been about a week since that phone went in its box forever, replaced by a completely dumb phone, a new plan with Ting, and a resolve to learn how to work differently. Here, I’d like to start talking about the tools which have replaced it in my life.
I’ve always been one of those guys who carried around a notebook. In junior high, it was a giant leather pad folio with homemade bumper stickers on the front. Fortunately, I now have the good sense to minimize that setup to a craft paper covered Field Notes book (gridded paper, please) and a pen, right now the Fisher Apollo Space Pen. I knew that analog capture is always faster than digital capture but, especially with the phone always around to diddle with, I wasn’t writing nearly enough as I used to.
When the smartphone left my front right pocket, something needed to take its place. The notebook was a natural fit, so it graduated from its rather ignoble space in my back right pocket, where it would get bent and beat all to hell. When it made its physical change, it made a cognitive change too: I started to write more. Sitting around with nothing to do, I’d pull a notebook out of my pocket instead of a phone. The notebook became the place to put my idle thoughts and energies.
Not having a computer in my pocket means being away from my todo lists, away from my folder full of text files, away from the tools I use to organize my life. That, however, doesn’t turn out as bad as it might seem. With just a capture implement in my hand, I’m free to write whatever goes through my head on that piece of paper. I’m free to capture now, and process later, when I’m sitting at my desk and ready to think through what that new idea, or obligation, or worry might actually mean.
I’ve realized already that the context of what I do sits in my office, at my desk, surrounded by books and whiteboards and empty SodaStream bottles. To try to squeeze in project planning or document editing or e-mail out in the world was a way of de-contextualizing that work. It made it hard to see the trees for the forest. I’m grateful now for the permission I’ve given myself to leave the incoming noise at home, and take with me the blank slate on which my mind can play.
We don’t normally discuss the “tech trends” here, but I wanted to share with you this exclusive interview my close friend Glenn Pivon from Diggtumblcrunchtech did with Pre-recorded.com’s Jay Frosting about some exciting new developments in the SEO ideaspace at the Google IdeaCrunchZone. I really hope you’ll enjoy it and think about your own opportunities to engage in some real critical symmetries.
For the past couple of months, my friend Doug and I have been working on a podcast called Dear Blank. Its impetus is a set of our ongoing conversations about personal relationships and priorities, but has branched out into some honest conversations about self-improvement generally. Today’s episode starts a two-parter on our respective apartments, which is all about considering what you value in a space and what you might give up to make those choices.
I’m really proud of what this is becoming - as we upgrade equipment (and I learn GarageBand!), our sound quality gets better and the content is, I think, improving as well. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
There is a new scientific study that shows that women in science do face discrimination on all levels from all scientists… what is important about this for me is that THIS study counts as good enough evidence. Whereas women scientists saying they are discriminated against is not, in and of itself, proof that women scientists are discriminated against. Now, for women scientists who live this discrimination everyday, these numbers matter because their profession and their society demand the numbers in order to deem the reality of this discrimination a Truth. I just hate that it has to be that way. It should be enough that when a lot of women scientists say they face bias in their work, we believe them. That should be good enough evidence. But it’s not because it falls outside the range of what we consider “empirical evidence.” Funny, that.
Gathering qualitative evidence isn’t just about expanding the scope of our research work, or doing some sort of special “Oprah Winfrey kind of research" - it’s about opening for inspection and analysis a whole subset of the empirical world. That’s in part why it’s so frustrating to watch my field get judged by its worst work. Whether or not current qualitative inquiry lacks rigor, we need these tools, we need them to be wielded in a sophisticated way, and we need them because evidence must exist outside of the formulaic world.
Even if you’re not a qualitative researcher by trade, anybody who’s into ideas can listen and react qualitatively when the situation calls for it. One crucial way is validating the experience of others - not because those experiences have been historically or culturally devalued over time (though they have), but simply because they exist as a reality worth study.