Month: September 2014

Multi-taskers: Suckers for Irrelevancy

People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.

On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

Clay Shirky on multi-tasking.

Scientists in Saris

When we think about space, whenever we think about science, we think about Vikram Sarabhai or Homi Bhabha or Satish Dhawan. Serious men in suits.

We do not think of women in brightly coloured silk saris, with a bit of gold on the borders, pottus on their forehead, and gajras in their hair whooping it up. We’ve seen pictures like that on Facebook but they are usually at pongal or Navratri or wedding celebrations.

But this was at the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Priceless picture.

Earth’s Water Older than the Sun

To determine the age of our solar system’s water, researchers focused on its ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, called “heavy hydrogen” because it has an extra neutron. Interstellar ice has a very high ratio of deuterium to hydrogen because it formed in very cold temperatures. Scientists already knew this from looking at the composition of comets and asteroids.

But, confounding the matter, deuterium levels in the solar system’s water have also been rising ever since the sun formed. So to determine if the sun alone could produce today’s levels of the isotope, researchers built a computer model that essentially wound back the clock to the beginning of the solar system and assumed no inherited deuterium.

However, the model system was incapable of producing deuterium to hydrogen ratios that were as high as those found in our solar system. Therefore, researchers estimate, 30 to 50 percent of our solar system’s water was already a part of the ancient molecular cloud that spawned the Sun and planets.

Up to half of it, but still. Something about this discovery is strangely poetic. On the scientific side, I’ve read that this means water is not all that rare; there might actually be a lot of water-based organism out there.


From “Dogfooding Until It Hurts”:

Dogfooding. Also called “eating your own dog food.” It’s pretty simple, right? If you work at Uber, maybe take an Uber car ride from time to time. If you work at Khan Academy, you’re probably pretty good at math by now.

In this video from 2009, Joel talks about dogfooding as being more than just using your own product. It’s about using your own product for everything you can imagine, even if that usage is a little uncomfortable.

I used Vesper for note-taking on the iPhone, and nvALT on the desktop. Despite the non-synchronicity between the two, I found them to be the best option for each situation.  Vesper is a masterclass in app design, and the amount of thought that goes into it really shows from all the design choices and what it says no to. nvALT, on the other hand, is lightning fast, can by synced with Dropbox, and gets out of the way of actual note taking.

My company has its own note-taking app: Simplenote. It has one big advantage over my current setup, namely synchronicity and availability on both iOS and OS X (as well as on the Web, Android and Kindle). My note-taking habit is contextual enough that I usually don’t need my mobile notes to be available on desktop notes and vice versa, but I have a suspicion that I shape that habit due to the lack of sync between Vesper and nvALT.

While I haven’t played with it enough, my initial impression is that Simplenote is really, really good. It’s not as fast as nvALT from my testing, but it’s fast enough. I like the design direction, and it contains many clever bit of thoughts. My only nitpick so far is that the desktop font is too tiny and there’s no setting to change it. But, being from the same company, I might be able to have a say about that instead of just wishing.

This honestly is not an easy change to make, but from today on I’ll be dogfooding Simplenote until it hurts. And see if I can do something about it.

A small rant courtesy of your users

As your user, I do not care that it works for you. I did not dream that your website failed. I did not make it up. I do not have the time to waste reporting things that never happened.

I do not caaaaare that it works for you. I am trying to use this process to get something done, and my time’s important. I’m trying to meet my needs, not yours. Either meet my needs or tell me you can’t, so I can give my time/money to someone else.

Reading this rant annoys me (well, it’s a rant), but it gets me thinking also. That last sentence in particular is interesting. I don’t mind if customers ended up going with another service; not everyone is a good match with a particular service provider. However I think it’s a good point that if it’s going to end up that way, better make the process faster and not waste their time about it.

Notch’s Resignation Letter from Minecraft

I’m aware this goes against a lot of what I’ve said in public. I have no good response to that. I’m also aware a lot of you were using me as a symbol of some perceived struggle. I’m not. I’m a person, and I’m right there struggling with you.

I love you. All of you. Thank you for turning Minecraft into what it has become, but there are too many of you, and I can’t be responsible for something this big. In one sense, it belongs to Microsoft now. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.

It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.

Microsoft buys Minecraft and Notch leaves. Here is his resignation letter. What an admirable honesty.

Just A Bunch of People Like Us

Marco Arment writes what will likely be my favorite piece about Apple Watch:

Despite our frequent expectations to the contrary, Apple rarely comes up with major solutions that nobody else could think of. “Apple” is just a bunch of people like us, and if we can’t think of a great way to solve an impossible problem or tradeoff, they probably can’t, either.

What Apple does best is take established ideas, build upon them, make good design decisions along the way, and execute well. It’s what they did with the iPhone and iPad before, and it’s what they did with the Apple Watch.

Atomic Sentences

A good idea:

I love these sorts of challenges, forcing us to be brief, working with constraints. No small task. Yet, encapsulating an entire design profession seemed a rather daunting — and fleeting — task, thus, I developed a daily practice.

At the end of each day, I write an “atomic sentence,” a single statement that summarizes the most vital lesson about that day.