5 writing tips from A. Lincoln

February 26, 2008

lincolns-sword.jpegOne way to improve your writing is to read good writers. Occasionally, if you are lucky, you come across a book on how a great writer writes. Such is Lincoln’s Sword by Douglas L. Wilson. No American president’s writings are so well known as those of Abraham Lincoln. His First and Second Inaugurals, and the Gettysburg address survive in part for the music of Lincoln’s words. But that music served a purpose; his style served the content masterfully. Here are a few things any beginning writer can learn from Abraham Lincoln, as revealed by Douglas Wilson. Read the rest of this entry »


What’s the one book on teaching you really need?

February 23, 2008

Teaching is complex. It is a craft–a series of tricks and habits. It is a social skill–requiring empathy and listening. It is an art–rewarding intuition and the ability to conjur a metaphor.

Not surprisingly, most people suck at teaching at the outset. Good teaching has a steep learning curve.

When I sat down to put together a reading list on becoming a good teacher, it struck me that almost everything on the Reading List page thus far, and everything that will follow, qualifies. Teaching is that multivariate.

So I simplified the problem. What is the one book that every beginning graduate student should read, nay, inhale, to make the most progress toward good teaching in a short period of time? Read the rest of this entry »

QoTD: Edward Tufte on the perfect scientific graphic

February 22, 2008

“Simple design, intense content.”

Two secrets to a long, healthy life: exercise and…umm…

February 21, 2008

Calvin CoolidgeA colleague of mine who knows a bit about the evolutionary biology of ethanol use, forwarded me a recent article in the European Heart Journal, entitled “The combined influence of leisure-time physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on fatal ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality.”

The upshot? Light to moderate physical activity (>4 h week) combined with moderate alcohol intake (4-10 drinks/week) minimized rates heart attacks and death in general in a sample of 19,329 Copenhagans. Abstention from alcohol, or 19-41 drinks/week, both tended to increase mortality in a similar fashion.

News you can use. Now it’s time for my martini.

The GTDA blogroll–43 Folders

February 21, 2008

I don’t have a huge blogroll at this site, largely because a long blogroll buries the sites that are consistently, absolutely, worth checking out on a regular basis. One such site is Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders. I like this site because Mann is tech savvy, funny, and not afraid to experiment.

The other thing I like is that 43 Folders is a wee bit agnostic about Getting Things Done, the time management system that inspired the nifty title of this blog. Ultimately, your system is your system–a series of tips and habits that accrue in your toolkit because they allow you to work effectively and increase your happiness. Toward that end, one of my goals here is to point out some promising stuff to add to your toolkit. And 43 Folders is so consistently, over the top useful, that it resides in the GTDA blogroll.

If you haven’t visited 43 Folders lately, here is a good place to start. A recent mention by NPR spurred Merlin to highlight some of the better posts on the subject of GTD. Enjoy.

There are some memes which must be…transmitted

February 21, 2008

Recovering from two back-to-back very excellent visits to colleagues  (see mental health days).

h/t Boing Boing

Saturday schadenfreude

February 16, 2008

When things just aren’t going right, find some small solace that your job does not include painting the meanest bird on the planet.

5 ways to exercise your analytical chops

February 16, 2008

Creativity is a about freely generating new ideas and culling 99% of them. The end product of creativity is thus new, useful ideas.

One’s quality as a scientist is a product of these two abilities.

Some folks are so hyper-critical of any new idea that nothing leaves their notebook. Even writing a paragraph becomes an excruciating ordeal, as any abstraction is ruthlessly worried and excised.

Some folks fill their notebooks with idea after idea, but end up swallowed up in the thicket unable to commit to any one idea for long (sort of an intellectual ADHD). Consider this post a dose of analytical Ritalin, prescribed by the good Dr. Tufte.

Edward Tufte is someone every beginning scientist should get to know. His Visual Display of Quantitative Information is the best introduction to the theory and practice of effective graphics. His website includes a bulletin board on all topics analytical, graphical, aesthetic, and concrete. The site’s only downside is that it can swallow Friday afternoons whole if you let it.

In short, Tufte is the paragon of GTDA’s guiding principle:

Quality = great content*great design.

Here is the opening salvo (plus my commentary) from his “Advice for effective analytical reasoning.”

Read the rest of this entry »

QoTD: On boredom

February 9, 2008

“Being bored doesn’t mean that “there’s nothing to do,” as children imprecisely complain to their parents on a rainy day, dragging their feet on the rug and kicking the sofa. It means that something big–whether it’s rain, other people, or our own hot-to-the-touch-fears–is keeping us from doing what we want to do, from playing outside, from expressing ourselves, from moving forward.”

Nancy Franklin, critic for  The New Yorker

3 ways to overcome life out of balance

February 9, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi is one of the great films of the ’80s. It uses video and a kick-ass Philip Glass score to explore life in turmoil (the eponymous title comes from the Hopi indian word for “life out of balance”). Koyaanisqatsi is a feeling common in grad school (and life) when all you seem to be doing is reacting, putting out fires, spinning your wheels. Needless to say, it can be disorienting. Here are three time-tested ways to fight life out of balance. Read the rest of this entry »