Filtering by Category: LifeHack

French-Cyrillic keyboard hack

A French Keyboard with stickers showing letters from the cyrillic alphabet, used by one of my students. Interestingly, some of them are absent on letters such as A, E, R, T... which corresponds to the ones most often used in French (I don't know why Z is in there...)

Kitchen hack

Kitchen hack Interesting kitchen hack noticed last week in France. A stopper duct-taped to a pan lid to prevent people from burning themselves. Note the interesting use of grey duct-tape to make it more coherent color-wise. Quite elegant.

Library or antilibrary

Library or antilibrary? Going through Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan another time, I stumbled across this inspiring quote at the beginning of the book:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary."

Why do I blog this? mostly two reasons for this on a sunday evening:

  1. Because it highlights to what extent books and resources like the one shown on the picture above (some of my books, including weird comics) can be seen as TOOLS. Mostly for researching insights, ideas, methods over the course of projects. Even comic books and awkward booklets have a role in research projects I conduct.
  2. As a reminder to avoid the fear of having stack of un-read books here and there. It's sometimes menacing but reassuring at the same time (still some material to peruse). The importance of the "un-read" is in direct correlation with possible discoveries and new vectors. I often randomly take one of the books and look at it (be it read or unread) and adopt two strategies: quick scan OR focus on one page and deeply explore what is said.

Digital close to physical

Digital+physical Seen at the office today.

When the digital (in the form of a DVD that contains drivers and software) needs to be put close to the physical (this scanner) through the magical use of duct tape. DVD like this often gets lost although they're generally needed, a quick trick to avoid losing it is to keep it close to the physical items it is related to.

The Economist about life hacks

The Economist about "life hacking" (tricks or hacks to get things done, as described by Danny O'Brien and Merlin Mann). I already mentioned that here, here are the tricks The Economist mentions:

• Slow down your e-mail: Set your e-mail program to fetch new messages every 15 minutes or every hour, rather than every minute, so you are interrupted less often. • Create form responses: Any time you find yourself typing substantially similar e-mails, create a form version and save it for future use. • Go full-screen: Switch your computer to full-screen mode, filling the whole screen with your current application, minimising the visual distraction of other programs. • Park on a downhill slope: When wrapping up work on a task, make a note of what needs to be done next. This makes it easier to get started when you resume work on the task. • Use a “dash” to beat procrastination: Putting something off? Devote five minutes, measured with a kitchen timer, to working on it. It will make the task seem more approachable. • Declare a “vertical day”: Switch off e-mail, mobile phones, everything, and devote yourself to a single, important project for an entire day.

Colors in email

In the last issue of Communication of the ACM, there is a paper about the value of color in email by Moshe Zviran , Dov Te'eni and Yuval Gross. The authors conducted an interesting field experiment about it.

DOES COLOR IN EMAIL MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Yes, if used correctly, it can excite and please, prompting recipients to respond as the sender intended— clicking a designated link or even buying something.

Color has two main functions—attract attention and set the right mood—for responding positively to a message or request. And because of our increasinglyshort attention spans and the relatively quick interaction speed we expect in today’s electronic world, it must do both at the same time. Color can be a prime attention grabber when and where people’s attention is scarce

Why do I blog this? this kind of topic is absolutely not related to what I do but I am sometimes amazed by color usage in email exchange.

Blog best-practices

The very insighitful Stowe Boyd gives a follow up to Robert Scoble's advice about how to raise more attention (and consequently send more important 'snowball' as in Stowe's terminology). I.E. it's w how to for improving one's blog and one's sphere of influence. Some excerpts:

  1. True Voice -- authentic and empassioned writing, clearly expressing a consistent and value-based perspective
  2. Throw Yourself Into Dialog -- Most great posts are a response to the writing of others.
  3. Draw The Line, Over And Over Again -- At any given time, successful, engaged bloggers are pursuing a set of themes or topics. (...) State your position and defend it.
  4. The Big Idea -- Every once in a while, work on one of those big posts, that outlines an idea that may have big implications.
  5. Sharpen Your Pencil, And Then Write. (...) You should write -- at a minimum -- every day.
  6. Courage -- (...) Accept the occasional (or even consistent) vitriol from detractors and nay-sayers. If you stand up and say something is great, or pointless, or the most likely trend for the future, you can be sure that there are others that will disagree, and they will be happy to say so. Fine. But you can't hedge, and middle-of-the-road platitudes or cautious optimism
  7. Technology -- (...) Learn how search engines work, and do the obvious things. Expressive titles, especially with people's and products' names help greatly. Tagging with detailed terms helps search engines and people alike. By all means, make your blog visually pleasing, accessible, and easy to read. Use graphics when appropriate, such as screen shots or diagrams. Link to all the people and stories you reference, and include people discussed as tags. [My favorite but hard to follow on a regular basis -nicolas]
  8. Timing Matters -- I am not suggesting blowing hot and cold on themes, but rather try to build on stories when they are still new and in people's thoughts.
  9. Human Sized Pieces -- People are busy, and so your posts should generally not be 20 page dissertations.
  10. Respond to comments -- (...) Engage them when they come. But never feed the trolls.

Why do I blog this? actually I don't aim at following all of these, especially my blog is first a repository for what I keep track of (yes that's why it's a HUGE MESS here) but I found some ideas interesting. I like what Stowe Boyd writes, relevant insights about to improve new media communication.

At the same time, News Scientist has a paper about the opposite: How to keep your site anonymous! :)

RSS Ideas for educators

(Via) Once in a while I check what's happening in the field of educational technologies because it's a very good field of application for IT and I stumbled across this very good resource: 50+ RSS Ideas for Educators, a work in progress paper by Quentin D'Souza. Apart from the obvious "conduct web searches when you sleep", there are some very relevant ideas like using RSS for reminders/calendars/tracking (students' collaboration/updates) / portfolio / todo lists / ...

The document is also illustrated with some scenarios.

Open doors and productivity

While reading "Richard Hamming: You and Your Research" (a tremendously interesting talk at Bellcore in 1986, found on Paul Graham's website), I ran across this excerpts I fully concur with:

I noticed the following facts about people who work with the door open or the door closed. I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, ``The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.'' I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing - not much, but enough that they miss fame.

This is really something I was struck by in the various organizations where I've worked.

Conference backchannels: distributed intelligence or divided attention

Jacobs N, Mcfarlane A. (2005) Conferences as learning communities: some early lessons in using `back-channel' technologies at an academic conference - distributed intelligence or divided attention? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 21, No. 5., pp. 317-329

researchers attend conferences as a part of their practice, and yet it is an under-researched activity. Little attention has been paid either to developing a theoretically informed understanding of conference practice as knowledge building, or to assessing the extent to which conferences are successful. This paper addresses these issues in the context of a small empirical study of the introduction of mobile, interactive (‘back-channel’) technologies into a conference setting. Science studies and learning theories literatures are used to develop an eight-point statement describing the aims of an idealised conference. This is then used as a framework through which to make sense of what happened when ‘back-channel’ technologies such as internet relay chat (IRC) and blogging were introduced into the 2004 Colston Symposium ‘The Evolution of Learning and Web Technologies: Survival of the Fittest?’. Focusing on sequential issues and the conference as a forum for knowledge building, the analysis shows that conference order is disrupted by the introduction of the back-channel technologies. Nevertheless, other pressures on academic and professional practice (the governance agenda, calls for greater collaboration and a more consensual approach, and so on) suggest that the potential of the new technologies to help open up the black box of scientific and professional practice will be seen as increasingly important. If these tools are to be used effectively in the future, conferences will need to be supported by new skills and practices.

Why do I blog this? my interest in this is twofold. First because we're organizing a conference (LIFT) and we're wondering about setting a backchannel system. Second because I think it's an interesting CSCW topic.

Weblogs, data collection and tools I use

Yesterday I attended a presentation about dangers and opportunities fostered by weblogs (of course 'danger' is where the emphasis where). One of the most interesting presenter was certainly David Sadigh from IC Agency (internet marketing firm in Geneva) in the sense that his presentation achieved to show how weblog and their corollary tools (e.g. search engine a la technorati/blogpulse) could be used for marketing/data collection/competitive intelligence issues. His pragmatic view of how using such tool was very refreshing among those talks who more focused on conservative topics. This made me think about my own practices about intelligence gathering; which are certainly close to what to do, except that the focus is less business-oriented but rather purposely aimed at being part of a research community, finding new information about specific topics and in the end discussing about innovation. But the approach is the same.

Then I made a quick list of the tools I used on a daily basis for various purposes connected to my research activities (be it for my phd funded by public fundings or for my R&D projects for private copmanies):

I should make the same list for statistical sources.

Life-hacking in the NYT

An insightful article in the NYT about life hacking. The article begins by summarizing the work of Gloria Mark who studied office work and came up with an atrocious description of how people work (or can't work):

When Mark crunched the data (...) Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What's more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task. (...) Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark's study also revealed their flip side: they are often crucial to office work. (...) If high-tech work distractions are inevitable, then maybe we can re-engineer them so we receive all of their benefits but few of their downsides. Is there such a thing as a perfect interruption?

And all of this leads to Danny O'Brien and Merlin Mann who are doing a terrific job blogging about life hacking (see 43folders, it's the best resource about life hacking)

In essence, the geeks were approaching their frazzled high-tech lives as engineering problems - and they were not waiting for solutions to emerge from on high, from Microsoft or computer firms. Instead they ginned up a multitude of small-bore fixes to reduce the complexities of life, one at a time, in a rather Martha Stewart-esque fashion.

Why do I blog this? this article is a great piece about office work troubles and potential solutions (aka life hacking + common stuff like 'calm technology' and so forth), there is a good summary of past research (academic) and geeky solutions that are tremendously useful.

Norman on Tufte on Powerpoint

A column by Donald Norman about defending powerpoint against Tufte; some excerpts I found relevant in this informative rant:

It has become commonplace to rail against the evils of PowerPoint talks; (...) PowerPoint should be banned, cries the crowd. Edward Tufte, the imperious critic of graphic displays has weighed in with a document entitled "The cognitive style of PowerPoint,"

First point: Everyone agrees, I hope, on the undesirability of the long, boring talk in which the speaker reads things to us that we are perfectly capable of reading to ourselves. Bullet point slides often lead to poor talks, but the problem is with the talk, not with the tool. We have had poor talks long before PowerPoint. (...) Let's face it: most people give poor talks. (...) The slides are written for the benefit of the speaker. They provide an outline and reminders of what is to be said. In the worst cases, they provide everything that is to be said, so the speaker need not think, but can simply read. After all, those who suffer from stage fright, or those with insufficient command of the material are not apt to be good thinkers when in front of an audience, so the slides are a necessary crutch. The question is, if the slides are for the speaker, why does the audience have to be subjected to them? (...) Readers should get good clear information, with sufficient background presentation that they can re-interpret and re-analyze the material presented to them. Readers are not listeners. This means that speech giver should really develop three different documents. 1. Personal notes, to be seen only by the speaker, and used as a reminder(...) 2. Illustrative slides. These slides should illustrate the major points and help motivate the listener.(...) 3. Handouts. Here is where the speaker can put the references, the data, the appendices to the talk.

I like his final statement:

What tool do I use? Often I use no tool at all: Just me, talking alone. Technology audiences are often horrified at first, but when I am finished they are often thankful. When I have points I want to illustrate, I use PowerPoint as an efficient way of presenting photographs and drawings. I don't use PowerPoint templates. I don't use bullet points and words in my slides, not unless I must.

Be careful when somebody's knocking at your door

(via), a stunning story:

Animal experts in Croatia say a bear has learned how to trick people to let him in by knocking at the door. They believe the 35-stone brown bear probably learned the trick while nudging a door to get it to open.

Experts speculate the nudging was mistaken by the owners for knocking and that the bear, pleased by the outcome, repeated the tactic. The Loknar family from Gerovo in western Croatia said the bear had knocked at their door three times and they were now refusing to answer the door.

Mum Nevenka Loknar said: "We jumped out the window as he came in through the door and raided the kitchen the first time. "I opened the door and saw him standing there and I didn't believe my eyes at first, then I ran for it as he walked in as if it was the most normal thing in the world. "Bears are a common thing in the woods around here, but no one has ever heard of a bear that knocks at the door.

"The bear is so intelligent it's incredible. We've tried to put up lots of obstacles to stop him coming in, like a wire fence but he still gets through. I wouldn't be surprised if he knew how to use wire cutters."

An animal life hack!

txt files addiction

If you're like me a txt file user, read this post on kuro5hin: "So you want to make textfiles" which is a nice how-to about this very topic. It's also a good reminder for simple typography.

One great benefit of textfiles is that they don't need any sissy header text: you can just open up an editor and start typing.