Archive for category: Reading

Google Wave could fix collaborative editing and mail at the same time

May 30th, 2009 by jose

The general agreement is that mail is broken. We all use it but kind of hate it too. Well, it seems that Google came up with a very good alternative (ambitious, and technically impressive): .

A long video of Wave’s capabilities .

It’s very long at 1:20hrs, but worth it. It’s peppered with random bouts of applause, something I’ve never seen in a scientific/technical presentation before. About minute 1:04, Lars Rasmussen presents real-time translation and he gets about a minute of standing ovation.

Why is this important for academics? Looks like sending a word document back and forth with version numbers in the file name is no fun. And setting a VCS with a bunch of .tex files plus figures is not much better (mainly because doing diffs on LaTeX files is pretty horrible). One could always convince a collaborator to use Google Docs, but then you have no way to use a proper reference manager, figures are a mess, etc. In short, scientific paper collaboration is not really pleasant right now.


Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software

May 30th, 2009 by jose

This old post from Joel is just a fancy way of saying what psychologists studying task switching have found: it’s better to do things in batches. This is also something that GTD, Do It Tomorrow, and other productivity methods attest. The whole point of tagging things with contexts in GTD is to be able to do all related things at once (when you are in a certain context).

But wow much better is batching? Well, here’s where things gets blurry. Most task switching experiments are done with extremely simple tasks, like pressing a key when a triangle is red, and another when it’s blue vs. a similarly abstract task.

  So we know surprisingly little about what tasks gain the most from being done in batches. But this reflects a more profound lack on our theory: what is a task? How similar are two tasks? For example, how similar is driving a car to driving a bike?

A dirty operational definition would be that two tasks are ScreenShot 002 Human Task Switches Considered Harmful - Joel on Software - Mozilla Firefox more similar the more they gain when done in the same batch. However, as far as I know nobody has tested this idea. And there’s a big ‘but’: sometimes similar tasks interfere with each other. Try singing a song and writing a different song on a pentagram. Or brushing your teeth and combing at the same time. So this operational definition doesn’t seem to work well.

Why is studying multitasking important? Well, if you have a browser open while you work, you know the answer already.

Do you know of any interesting multitasking studies that use realistic materials?

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful – Joel on Software

Optimize the tones of your screen according to the time of day

May 25th, 2009 by jose

This is a killer app: Flux calculates what time of day it is and adjust your monitor accordingly. Wonderful if you stare at pdfs (lots of white!) on the screen at night. I  wonder how I lived without Flux :) . It also seems to help regulating sleep patterns. Recommended.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice –

April 18th, 2009 by jose

How much of the advice we take is based on solid empirical evidence? Surprisingly worrying little! I’d love it if someone actually tries to put together an estimation (let me know if you know one!).

The Chronicle, in a surprising streak of opinion articles, finds that Strunk and White’s claims are mostly baseless:

Simple experiments (which students could perform for themselves using downloaded classic texts from sources like show that Strunk and White preferred to base their grammar claims on intuition and prejudice rather than established literary usage.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice –

If academics take advice without questioning the evidence, I wonder what will save the general public :) . Good to see people at The Chronicle debunking BS; I have fallen prey of recommending Strunk and White myself… :(

Diigo – Web Highlighter and Sticky Notes, a delicious killer?

March 29th, 2009 by jose

Would you like to highlight parts of webpages? I do that all the time with pdfs, so I miss this functionality when I’m online. Sometimes I bookmarked a site, but when returning to it I don’t see the part that interested me. This problem has been solved by diigo.

As you may have observed, here at ap we are fans of social bookmarking and collaboration (we have the homepage_logodelicious bar under each post). Showing what people have bookmarked gives us feedback, and it is Up to now the leading contender in this space was delicious. But after finding Diigo, I cannot understand how delicious lost their competitive advantage so fast. Diigo is a killer app, and it works in many browsers.