09 December 2011

The effects of 8 time zones

I flew from LHR to SAN yesterday to come to an NHGRI workshop on "Genomic Opportunities for Studying Sickle Cell Disease", which looks like a really cool meeting (starting in 5 mins). It's a long flight, which I thought would be OK because it was a "day" flight departing at 15:50...but of course when you land 12 hrs later it's 4AM according to your own clock. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to get from the tarmac to a taxicab in less than half an hour (!). The non-US citizen immigration line looked long and depressed, though: yay dual citizenship!

I had a beer at the hotel and hit the sack around 9PM. I managed to sleep (albeit fitfully) until around 5:30, which was another big relief. This morning I worked (during UK office hours) and then went for a walk around San Diego before the meeting kicked off. I had the best sushi I've had in years at 11:30 AM (the waitress generously did not look at me funny for having sushi before noon). It's a bright sunny day, which made the experience surreal, since my body was expecting that darkness had arrived hours earlier. It's also the first time I've been here since ASHG 2007, and seeing bars where I was hanging out 4 years ago while walking around the streets solo has put my mind in a contemplative (in a good way) place.

I'm hoping for a good recharge, both scientifically and personally on this trip, and maybe 8 hours of jetlag is just what I need...

08 October 2011

Bob Dylan live

Last Thursday night I crossed an item off my bucket list by seeing Bob Dylan play live (though presumably the real time pressure is him kicking the bucket rather than me). Dylan is easily my all time favorite artist, and I've been thinking for a while that I want to see him live before he retires or dies. Carl and I left work around lunchtime and bringing only the tickets, my passport, wallet and toothbrush, flew to Dublin (on Ryanair, which turns out to be essentially the only way to get from England to Dublin. Horrible.). We checked into a hotel room and then headed to a pub where we had a couple of pints of Guinness and took a conference call. We grabbed some dinner and then headed for the main event.

06 October 2011

Words to live by

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
-Steve Jobs

05 October 2011

Humility and Science

I was intrigued (as people from all scientific disciplines were, I imagine) when scientists announced last week that neutrinos had traveled from CERN to Gran Sasso faster than the speed of light. I'm skeptical of the result, and look forward to seeing the physics community scrutinize the results. What struck me even more, however, is the humble way in which the authors presented their results.

Many scientists discover something (apparently) groundbreaking and hold press conferences declaring that they've rewritten the rules (c.f. the Arsenic Life debacle), and start reading up on the protocol of how to address the King of Sweden (especially at this time of year). By contrast, Ereditato and colleagues readily admit that this result could be caused by an undiscovered error in their analysis. "We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't. When you don't find anything, then you say 'well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this'."

I just found it so refreshing to hear from someone with a remarkable result who didn't immediately think they were the greatest scientist in the world. A lesson all practicing scientists should take to heart:

"we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result - because it is crazy"

17 August 2011

Getting Things Done: Prologue

I recently read David Allen's Getting Things Done, motivated proximally by the Fisher Files (see last post) and distally by my longstanding distress at the disorganization of my life. It's a well written book, and while it does have some repetition it avoids the vacuous sloganeering common to self-help books. The system itself is relatively simple:
  1. Create "buckets" for all the "stuff" that flows into (any aspect of ) your life. Everything must come into a bucket that's part of your trusted system (see below).
  2. Regularly process your buckets into a system, typically consisting of some combination of calendars, to do lists and project folders. The details of how you push paper or computer files are largely up to you, but the key is that you develop an inherent trust that nothing will be "lost" from the system.
  3. Develop a mode of working focused on "next actions": the next physical, visible actions that you can do to make progress on your projects.
The goal of this system is to free up the time and energy your brain is unconsciously devoting to keeping track of all your "stuff". Even people with partial organizational systems (probably most of us) are affected by the amorphous, nagging feeling that there is something else we should be doing now. What's remarkable is how a system focused on the nuts and bolts of everyday life can have positive effects on much broader and long term aspects of life, such as career planning, personal growth, family life and a sense of purpose in the world.

I've just started GTD, and I'm planning to blog my experiences for my own benefit and hopefully for anyone else looking to increase their flow and reclaim their lives. I'll try to touch on both my specific implementation and these bigger questions about why I'm making this change. Here goes!

04 August 2011

The Fisher Files

MIT Physics professor Peter Fisher (with whom I took 8.033 12 years ago) produced two seasons of podcasts back in 2007 called the Fisher Files. Unfortunately something disastrous happened to the stylesheets or something because the website is basically unusable in its present state. I had stumbled across this a few months ago but was put off by the wreckage of the site. TFazio recently mentioned it and this time I put the effort into downloading all the actual podcasts.

The podcasts revolve around the Getting Things Done philosophy of how to collect and organize the myriad daily tasks which make up our lives. Fisher nicely applies GTD ideas to many specific scenarios of academic life, making the ideas more directly applicable to me. He also goes further than just discussing ways to be productive, though, and tries to bridge the gap between accomplishing today's tasks and the almost spiritual goal of loving one's work and balancing it with other parts of life.

I'm so glad I went to the effort of grabbing them, because they're incredibly relevant to me right now. And in the hope of making them more widely available, I've collected the links below. I hope others will enjoy them as much as I have begun to!

Season 1 (largely about GTD)
  1. Introduction
  2. Buckets & Weekly Review
  3. Projects
  4. ToDo
  5. Calendar
  6. Putting things together [broken link]
  7. Email
  8. Files
  9. Feeding the Bad Wolf
  10. Gadgets
  11. Multitasking
  12. Reading
Season 2 (the academic life)