Ask GTDA: using subject lines as the whole email

September 18, 2011

One more question: Since we were talking in class about minimizing the emails that you force other people to read, what are your thoughts on sending an email that simply says “Thanks” when someone responds to a request you sent them?  It seems rude to not acknowledge their response, but it does force them to open/delete another email…

Good question. You have three options when you receive a useful email. Read the rest of this entry »


Why we do science: quantum mechanics remixed

September 18, 2011

These guys give me hope.

Your mission statement: a meaningful life defined

September 18, 2011

We spend a fair bit of time on this blog differentiating between strategy–delineating one’s goals–and tactics–carrying out those goals. Many of us nowadays, myself included, get so wrapped up in finding the perfect suite of technologies and habits (i.e., the optimal tactics) that we lose track of what we are actually trying to do. If we don’t review our life strategies every once in a while, we run the risk of going nowhere, but doing it very efficiently.

I came across an opinion piece by Todd May at the New York Times asking just how we identify a meaningful life. After the requisite nod to, and dismissal of, that happy go lucky man about town, Jean-Paul Sartre, May mentioned a recent book by Susan Wolf,  “Meaning in Life and Why It Matters.”

A meaningful life, she claims, is distinct from a happy life or a morally good one. In her view, “meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.” A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile.  The person living the life must be engaged by it.  A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.

In the interest of brevity, this appears to boil down to the following equation:

The meaningfulness of an act = likelihood of performing an act * the social utility of the action

(and yes, for those who know me, there were units in an earlier draft, and the equation included the terms “work”, “activation energy”, and “fitness”, but hey, I’m trying to get a few hits from the philosophy blogs around here).

A perhaps more practical approach to the problem of finding meaning is to write your own mission statement–a concise outline of what is important to you. Mission statements are ultimately useful in their ability to clarify one’s own thoughts and focus the mind like a laser beam on the tasks at hand. Next, I present a five step process toward crafting your own mission statement.  Read the rest of this entry »

My new favorite global map

September 18, 2011



Most scientists I know are map-geeks. What’s not to love about a 2-dimensional abstraction that captures gobs of information in an economical way? For those of us who love biogeography–the study of the distribution of life across the planet–how one renders the globe is vital to understanding where and why the diversity is. And the Mercator projection, the view of the world one sees from most North American classrooms, leaves, let us say, a little bit to be desired in that department. In the Mercator, the area of the continents around the equator–where most of the diversity of life can be found, is shrunk relative to poles. The story goes that Mercator, a German, devised a map that made Germany look as big as possible (but, in a karmic backfire, made Russia look even bigger, and let’s not even get started about Greenland).


So enter the The Peirce Quincunial, where the equator is a square. Sheer beauty.

Big tip of the hat to Victoria Johnson at The Awl.