Archive for category: Cognitive science

Being a genius or having a genius?

September 9th, 2009 by

If you’re not already aware of the excellent TED conferences and talks, I would strongly recommend going to their site and having a poke around. There are some fascinating people and ideas featured but be prepared to spend a bit of time: most of the content consists of 18 minute video talks.

One of the best ones I’ve seen recently is this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of a “journey of self-discovery” type novel which is being made into a movie with Julia Roberts. To be honest, from that description, I probably would have skipped it but I’m glad I did watch it: it’s thought-provoking and in places very funny.

She discusses the idea of “genius” and how the pre-Enlightenment concept of attributing outstanding works of art to divine inspiration/intervention (literally, “having” a genius) contrasts with the modern notion that such works come from within the individual (“being” a genius). “Having” a genius helps the artist maintain distance between themselves and their work, deflecting blame from the self when things don’t go so well and keeping one modest when work is well-received. As she says, it helps avoid the depressive thoughts that make one want “to start drinking gin at 9 o’clock in the morning” and generally helps promote creativity.

What do you think? Sounds pretty reasonable to me and a useful construct for digging one’s self out of rut.

Drafting hacks: In long docs view only a section at a time

August 11th, 2009 by

800px-Toiletpapier_(Gobran111)I’m sure everyone here is familiar with drafting. It’s a very  demanding activity, and my feeling is that there are no proper tools out there. Word is clearly not a good drafting tool, and raw latex is not much better. I particularly use onenote, but it’s not without its problems (I work under linux too, and there the closest solution I could find is to use rightnote under wine).

Surprisingly enough, the Office team has a website to request feedback, and they seem to use it (!). This is a way to talk to the developers directly, something I missed when using microsoft products for a long time. So if you have a pet peeve, go post it there. Here’s mine:

In long docs view only a section at a time

Navigating a long doc is awful for drafting. The toilet paper metaphor doesn’t work, human working memory cannot keep track of location of ideas that way. Onenote shows a much better metaphor, where one idea/section is its own tab. This idea agrees with the programming maxim "a function should use a screen at the most. If it doesn’t fit a screen, it’s too long". writing text is not programming, but it’s close: many ideas organized in a logical way, with dependencies.

So the proposal: In long docs, view only a section at a time. This could be draft mode, or a checkbox for any mode.

Btw, outline mode is not what I mean. Apart from being ugly as hell, it shows all other sections folded. I mean a completely crear screen with just the section you are working on.

It sorta can be done now, by using a master document and making each section a subdocument… but it’s not very agile. I rearrange sections a lot. Having each subdoc as another window separately is confusing.

I’m curious to hear what your tricks are for drafting. I’m surprised that things like onenote don’t get more attention in this community. They do take quite a lot of mental effort out from writing for me.

Attention economy: ROI for your attention

December 6th, 2007 by

In the last month or so (sorry, we haven’t posted in a month!) I’ve been reading on and thinking about attention economy. I think it is the right paradigm to connect the different bits and pieces of productivity knowledge (we could call them hacks) floating around on the ‘net.

I could write a long intro to the attention economy ideas and how they affect the way we process information AND make decisions… but I have written a series of 4 posts on attention economy and I’d better redirect you there. So, ideally, before you continue reading this post you should have at least skimmed that series, and you should be comfortable with it.

The question I want to address on this post is this: Are we rational about how we allocate attention? This is an important topic because attention allocation to different scientific topics can make or break your career.


How do you submit seven papers in a month? interview with Dan Navarro

March 7th, 2007 by

Dan posted in his blog that he had managed to get seven papers out in the open literature in January. I had to interview him. How do you manage your daily workload?

Dan Navarro: A lot more pragmatically than I used to. I put an hour or so aside each morning to cover the miniature administrative rubbish – it’s not really enough time to do it properly, but I’ve started to realise that most of it doesn’t matter very much, so I can cut-and-paste a lot of things (Incidentally: never throw away a good piece of bureaucracy-speak, like a research profile or a course description. You can reuse it about 10 times before anyone starts to care). I tend to do intellectually heavy things throughout the morning and into the early afternoon. I tend to take a bit of a siesta in the late afternoon – I don’t sleep, but I do switch off a bit (sometimes I do paperwork). I find this makes it easier to do something useful in the evening. (more…)

Learning Technologies and Cognition

November 8th, 2006 by

I receive from Itiel Dror (Southampton) the announcement of a relevant call for paper for a special issue of Pragmatics & Cognition, focusing on learning technologies:

pcLearning technologies have been taking an increasing role in almost all learning environments. They are used in a variety of informal and formal educational environments, from early years to university level and throughout adulthood, as well as in many commercial, industrial, and governmental settings. With the greater use of learning technologies it is critical to better understand how they interact with human cognition. Both in terms of how they may facilitate and enhance (as well as hinder) learning, and also in terms of how they affect the way we learn and acquire information, and the nature of cognition.

The full call for papers is available here.
(Deadline for submissions: 30 June 2007)