What You Don't Want

I’ve often said that one of the best ways to find out what you really want is to start with what you don’t want. I’d like to explore this theme a little further in this posting.

There is something about asking for what we want that attracts a lot of negativity in our present-day culture. Many of us remember childhood sayings like “Those that ask don’t get”, or we remember that we were made to feel selfish when we expressed our wants. So it is not too surprising perhaps that for many people it is incredibly difficult to come to a satisfactory answer to the question “What do you really want?” When we do succeed in answering the question clearly and without reservation it has the effect of bringing a much greater focus to our energy.

However the effect of this childhood and cultural conditioning is that most of us find it much easier to identify what we don’t want than what we do want. The secret is to take what we don’t want and then turn it into the positive opposite.

So, to take an example, at work you might find yourself saying: “I am always getting interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.” And sometimes we can go on saying that for years without doing anything about it!

The first step is to identify what you don’t want. This is pretty obvious: “I don’t want to be constantly interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.” However note that this is a much more powerful statement than “I am always getting interrupted.” Once you have identified it as something you don’t want, as opposed to something you are merely complaining about, there is a much greater likelihood of your doing something about it.

Step two is to identify the positive opposite. What is the positive opposite for you of being constantly interrupted? Note that I said “for you” — we are not looking for the exact grammatical opposite but what it would mean for you. So you might say “to have a uninterrupted couple of hours every day during which I can really concentrate on my work.”

Compare the effect that each of the following statements is likely to have:

“I’m always getting interrupted when I’m trying to concentrate on my work”

“I don’t want to be constantly interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.”

“I want an uninterrupted couple of hours every day during which I can really concentrate on my work”.

Which statement is most likely to result in your being able to concentrate on your work without interruptions?


What You Don’t Want

The Last Novel

By David Markson, fun, fun, fun.  Excerpt:

Curiously impressed by the fact that Auden paid everyone of his bills – electric, phone, whatever – on the same day that it arrived.

Or:

We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention.
Said Richard Serra.

Is this a novel or a book of aphorisms?  Could it be a set of blog posts spread out over 190 pp.?  Who cares, I finished it.  Or:

A woman’s body is not a mass of flesh in a state of decomposition, on which the green and purplish spots denote a complete of cadaveric putrefaction.
An early critics presumed to inform Renoir.


The Last Novel

Reading Comics

Designer name to come

Fans of comics and graphic novels will have to tell the rest of us if vertical text is commonly used in those media – I just don’t know.


The use of primary colors plus black and white works very nicely here, and the eye on the left is a great addition – it underscores the graphic nature of the subject and it breaks the symmetry of the overall design. Nice.

Buy this book at Amazon.com
Reading Comics

The critic as the handmaiden of Google

What are critics good for anyway?

I look for one main piece of information from a review: is the name of the product or artist worth Googling?  Yes or no.  That is a binary decision.

Once I have the answer to that question I usually stop reading the review.

I look for one main piece of information from Google: is the product worth buying, on Amazon or elsewhere?

Once I have the answer to that question I usually stop pawing through Google.  That’s another binary decision.

Imagine that.  The critic as the handmaiden of Google, and Google as the handmaiden of Amazon.

To me, the most valuable critics are those who can be disposed of most quickly.  Is it any wonder that so many critics do not like the Internet and bloggers?

Sometimes I think it is enough to simply list how many of the book’s pages I bothered to read.


The critic as the handmaiden of Google

nowMap: Half-A4 Template (With areas for Notes and Wins)

Latest Update: I’ve attached the original OpenOffice Draw file to the bottom of the page now, too, so people can modify it for different paper sizes and such like.


This is a template for nowMaps - quick visual overviews of what’s on your mind. To find out what a nowMap is, and how to use the main section of this form, see the nowMap Introduction, which also lists other nowMap templates available.

This Form

nowMap Half-A4 Template, Picture

(This is just a pic to let you see what the form looks like - keep scrolling for the PDF file if you want to print one out to use it. If you’re really stuck, and can’t use the PDF, click the picture, then click on “view original”, then right click the picture and save it - it’ll look pretty poor printed, but it should work ok.)

This is actually the first nowMap form I made, and although I find it handy, it might be a bit small if you’re reasonably busy. The reason I’ve called it “Half-A4”, not A5, is that it’s actually a full sheet of A4 (should work just fine printed on US Letter paper, just let Adobe Reader scale it to fit), but only the bottom half is a nowMap.

Here’s a colour-coded version, so I can refer to the areas by colour further down - don’t worry, the PDF version isn’t like this…

nowMap Half-A4 Template, Picture, Colour Coded

Bottom Half

A nowMap, as described in the introduction, with squared main area (pink), lined left hand side (yellow), and spaces marked on the right for start and end dates (blue).

Top Half

The top half consists of two columns for notes, and one for wins…

  • Notes: (red) - just areas for keeping general notes - not actions or references that belong to the side of the nowMap, but maybe a space to jot down things when you’re on the phone, to scribble new ideas, or pretty much anything else. Very rough notes can, of course, go on the back of the sheet.
  • Wins: (green) - an area to note down your achievements. Doesn’t have to be anything big, but anything you feel good about having done. The idea is that this gives you a bit of a record of what you’re actually getting done, and might make you feel a bit better when you glance up at it. Pure feel-good stuff. You don’t have to fill it in, but why not feel good at least occasionally?

The PDF Download

Should be below, along with the OpenOffice Draw file that generated it, to allow for modifications…

AttachmentSize A4 Folded.odg10.62 KB A4 Folded.pdf52.41 KB
nowMap: Half-A4 Template (With areas for Notes and Wins)

Xenía in D.C.

Last month’s news but still worth thinking about:

It started about midnight on June 16 when a group of friends was finishing a dinner of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp on the back patio of a District of Columbia home. That’s when a hooded man slid through an open gate and pointed a handgun at the head of a 14-year-old girl.

“Give me your money, or I’ll start shooting,” he said, according to D.C. police and witnesses.

Everyone froze, including the girl’s parents. Then one guest spoke.

“We were just finishing dinner,” Cristina “Cha Cha” Rowan, 43, told the man. “Why don’t you have a glass of wine with us?”

The intruder had a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupery and said, “Damn, that’s good wine.”
The story gets even stranger, with Camembert and hugs.

I’m hoping that any of my Homer-reading students who come across this news item pause to think on the ancient Greek practice of ξενία (xenía), hospitality. The Iliad ends with an extraordinary moment of xenía, when Achilles as host treats Hector’s father Priam with respect and compassion. The two share a meal before Priam departs with Hector’s returned corpse. The Odyssey is a running display of xenía and its opposite: virtually every scenario in the poem hinges upon the practice or abuse of hospitality. And hospitality isn’t limited to better homes and palaces: the swineherd Eumaeus acquits himself as a perfect host by offering Odysseus that best that he has: food, shelter, and a cloak to stay warm (almost literally the shirt off his back).

What’s remarkable in this D.C. story is that one person’s quick thinking changed — in a moment, for everyone involved — a dismally familiar scenario into something far more humanly complicated. How odd this robber must’ve felt to be seen not as a terrifying monster but as a guest. And how odd his potential victims must’ve felt to be recognizing his need for affection (however chemically induced that need may have been).
Attempted robbery ends in group hug (Yahoo News, via Boing Boing)
Tags
,
Xenía in D.C.

nowMap: Full A4 Templates

Latest Update: I’ve attached the original OpenOffice Draw files to the bottom of the page now, too, so people can modify these for different paper sizes and such like.


This is a template for nowMaps - quick visual overviews of what’s on your mind. To find out what a nowMap is, and how to use the main section of this form, see the nowMap Introduction, which also lists other nowMap templates available.

This Form

nowMap Template - Full A4 Squared

(This is just a pic to let you see what the form looks like - keep scrolling for the PDF file if you want to print one out to use it. If you’re really stuck, and can’t use the PDF, click the picture, then click on “view original”, then right click the picture and save it - it’ll look pretty poor printed, but it should work ok.)

This is probably the one most of you will want - a full A4 sized nowMap, with no trimmings.

There are two versions - one where the main nowMap area is plain, and one where it’s squared. Pick whichever you prefer - plain for the free-form free spirit in you, squared to let your inner geek shine.

The PDF Download

Should be below, along with the OpenOffice Draw (.odg) files…

AttachmentSize A4 Full Plain.odg8.94 KB A4 Full Squared.odg10.11 KB A4 Full Squared.pdf50.02 KB A4 Full Plain.pdf38.74 KB
nowMap: Full A4 Templates

Leading journals reject Word 2007 files - ZDNet UK

If you were happy to find that the new Office 2007 equation editor is a lot more like LaTeX, and that equations didn’t look as bad in Word as before, think again.

Microsoft is pushing a proprietary markup language (OOXML) that clashes with what Nature and Science own typesetters use, so they will simply reject the paper. This might be a good time to read Dario’s own ode to the beauty of LaTeX.

Technorati tags: typesetting, latex, math, markup, OOXML

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Leading journals reject Word 2007 files - ZDNet UK

Changing the Past?

I’ve spend quite a bit of time over the years talking about the importance of making decisions, and how to keep to them. And today I want to return to the subject.

One of the problems most of us face is that we are so busy dealing with everyday decisions that we never take the time to make the strategic decisions that are really going to make a difference. Well here’s a little exercise in two parts to look at those decisions. Set aside a few minutes to do it.

** First Part

Think back to what you were doing five years ago 2002 and imagine that you had the power to go back and make all the decisions that you didn’t make then. What would you chose to change?

What you may realise is that the decisions you were making five years ago (or failing to make) have had a profound effect on the way you live now. They might have been decisions to sort out a relationship, or to change jobs, or to have a medical checkup, or to lose weight, or to give up smoking, or to learn a new skill, or to get fit. With any of these, if you had put them into effect five years ago you would now be reaping the benefits. How might yourlife be different now?

Second Part **

Imagine that you’re five years in the future in 2012 and you are looking back doing the same exercise. What are the decisions that you wished you had made in 2007?

Well, this time you CAN go back and make those decisions… you can make them right now!


Changing the Past?

Version Control: Use the caret (^) to manage file versions

caret.pngThe underused caret (shift + 6) is an excellent tool for managing file versions. If you’ve got several versions of a file to track and no full-blown version control system to use, just append the caret and a version number to the file name. Tech site WorldStart.com explains that this method of versioning makes it easy to locate file revisions by entering the caret as criteria into your search app du jour. How do you manage the various versions of your important documents? Share in the comments.
More On Carets [WorldStart.com]

Version Control: Use the caret (^) to manage file versions

Ontology Links

I recently had to make a presentation at work on ontologies–the basics, really, of what they are, how they’re used, and what the heck is OWL? I found the following links and sites helpful in creating my presentation, and thought I’d share them here.

The Basics

Advanced Material

Wikipedia

Controversy

Images

OWL, Protege

Mental Accounting for Dummies

The Bank of America’s Keep the Change program freaks me out.   Every time you make a charge with your B of A debit card it rounds the figure up to the nearest whole amount and transfers the change to your checking account.  Commercials for this service are all over the television and radio - tagline: “you don’t even have to think about saving” - and every time I see one I feel the gulf between me and the rest of humanity widening (MR readers excepted of course).

Look, I can understand Ulysses tying himself to the mast, I can understand locking the refrigerator and I can understand Christmas accounts but I will never understand how anyone can increase their savings by taking money from one account and putting it into another.  I think I will write a book, I will call it Mental Accounting for Dummies:

The secret to saving more money is simple.  In your right hand is money for spending.  In your left hand is money for savings.  Now take some money from your right hand and put it into your left hand.  Tada!  Wasn’t that easy?

Millions have signed up for Keep the Change and the program has been written up by Business Week as “a radically different product that broke the paradigm."  Sigh.

n.b. It is true that B of A tops up the amount transferred but this part of the program, the only part that makes any sense, is hardly advertised at all.


Mental Accounting for Dummies

The economics of cats

Many people have been clamoring for this topic over at the secret blog.

My views are simple: we have too few cats in the world, relative to dogs.  Dogs, for reasons of temperament, can in essence precommit to being our slaves.  (As long as they are not Irish Setters.)  That makes us more willing to create or support an additional dog.  The quantity of dogs is nearly Pareto optimal, although their emotional slavery to us raises ethical questions about the distribution of power in the relationship.

A cat cannot “promise,” genetically or otherwise, that her kittens will become your slaves, if only you don’t neuter her.  The kittens never come about, or they meet a cruel fate rather quickly.

If you must support the life of either a cat or a dog, choose the undervalued cat.  This argument requires only that the cat gets some value out of being alive, and that value should carry some weight in our all-things-considered moral calculations.

More generally, you should go around helping the (undervalued) people who insult you, or the people who otherwise signal their independence from you.  The craven are already being helped quite a bit.


The economics of cats

Featured Windows Download: Add tabs to any program with WinTabber

WinTabber.pngWindows only: Freeware app WinTabber can add tabs to any program for easy grouping. Not only can WinTabber group multiple instances of the same program into tabs, but it can also group different programs together into tabs (as shown in the screenshot). Its possible uses abound, but grouping your applications based on purpose is one idea with a lot of potential. For example, you could create two groups of tabs: one group for work-related applications and one group of tabs for your non-work-related apps. WinTabber is a free download for Windows only.
WinTabber [via One Tip A Day]

Featured Windows Download: Add tabs to any program with WinTabber

Excessive Ovation Syndrome

There’s a malady sweeping the nation that’s highly contagious to concertgoers.  It doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call it Excessive Ovation Syndrome (EOS for short).  Those suffering from it stand and applaud at performances that aren’t good enough to deserve such enthusiasm. In extreme cases, they shout “Bravo!” during events that are best forgotten.

The more people pay for tickets, the more susceptible they are to EOS, because ovations confirm that their money was well spent.  Even those in bargain seats can easily catch it from their neighbors.  The urge to stand and cheer may be irresistible if everyone around you is doing it.

Here is more.  Is the fear that too much costly clapping goes on?  I believe most of these people enjoy the pretentious show of approval.  A more plausible worry is that audiences, if they approve all performances, can no longer signal quality to performers.  Given that other and arguably more accurate signals remain in place (critics, bloggers, the conductor, etc.), I am not sure we should be concerned by greater noise in the audience signal.  After all, the very complaint suggests that the audience cannot be trusted to judge quality, so why not neutralize them?

And if the excess clapping gives the less musically sophisticated attendees a better memory of the show, that is arguably a benefit.  Are we not, after all, committed egalitarians?

Against my better aesthetic judgment, I am on the verge of endorsing Excessive Ovation Syndrome.


Excessive Ovation Syndrome

The Last Novel

Designer name to come

Today’s question: how would you design a jacket for a novel that desperately, aggressively, willfully tries not to be a novel – a book that “does away with most narrative conventions – plot, colorful characters, dramatic conflict,” using instead “a collage of very short anecdotes, apocryphal legends, aphorisms, (and) lurid gossip…run(ning) through (a) fragmented consciousness?” And one that begs comparison to Joyce, Beckett, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Shakespearean sonnets, just to name a few? (Read the wonderful NY Times review, from which the above quotes are taken.)

Here’s the answer:


The debate begins…now.
The Last Novel