- “It’s very hard for Americans to accept that we are not the root cause of all the world’s good or evil.” [George Packer, New Yorker]
- Before the startup: “Ok, so how do you turn your mind into the type that startup ideas form in unconsciously? (1) Learn a lot about things that matter, then (2) work on problems that interest you (3) with people you like and respect.” [Paul Graham]
- An ode to Bayesian statistics [F. D. Flam, New York Times]
- How I rewired my brain to become fluent in math [Barbara Oakley, Nautilus]
- The economic case for paternity leave [Gwynn Guilford, Quartz]
- Do you want a meaningful life or a happy one? “If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself.” [Roy F. Baumeister, Aeon]
I’m usually asleep by 10 p.m. but I lost track of the time while redoing my other site, millietran.com. So, here’s what I’ve been listening to this evening:
- A golden age of design: “The golden age of design has been heralded many times over the past couple of decades — four, by my count. Now, this previous momentum paired with technology, community and big business has fueled something new: an unprecedented belief in the power of design to not only elevate an idea, but be the idea.” [Rob Walker, New York Times T Magazine]
- 13 lessons for design’s new golden age: Lesson 12 highlights the work of the New York Times R&D Lab [Wired]
A review of Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style by Gary Stephen Ross in The Walrus. Great, fun piece about good prose, the importance of ignorance in writing more clearly, and how coherence in structure helps us understand better.
As anyone with an inbox can attest, misused language abounds, and misunderstanding follows. Much of this misunderstanding, Pinker says, flows from what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”—the writer’s difficulty in conceiving what it’s like for readers not to know something she knows. He’s referring mainly to jargon, shorthand, and specialized vocabulary, the use of which he calls the “single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.” This seemed to me a great oversimplification until I asked someone I’d just met what he did for a living. He said he was “managing director, digital” at a public relations firm.
“I don’t really know what that means.”
“I’m a digital and social-media strategist,” he explained. “I deliver programs, products, and strategies to our corporate clients across the spectrum of communications functions.”
“Sorry to be a doofus, but pretend I’m ten years old. What do you do all day? ”
“I teach big companies how to use Facebook.”
There. Quite simple, really, but arrived at only after my insistence on my ignorance.
I remember my English professors in college returning papers back to me and telling me how incoherent they were — I skipped from one thought or idea to the next. I think this was a paper on Hamlet or something where I tried to tie in Plato’s ideas of reality.** Anyway, I eventually got better, even if through very systematically preparing and analyzing (and re-analzying and editing) my writing with tedious outlines to make sure ideas build from one to the next and flow properly.
The Sense of Style further investigates the links between language and thought, and does so in ways that offer practical benefits to anyone wishing to become a better writer. Pinker contends that a “hunger for coherence [drives] the entire process of understanding language.” Is it really as simple as “Whenever one sentence comes after another, readers need to see a connection between them”? He makes a persuasive case. What he calls “coherence connectives”—despite, because, however, therefore, nonetheless, and so forth—are, he maintains, “the unsung heroes of lucid prose” and “the cement of reasoning.”
Pinker found that underperforming high school students tend to be flummoxed by the challenge of stringing together coherent sentences. A program that trained them to construct arguments, with an emphasis on the connection between successive ideas, dramatically improved their performance. As for troublesome passages in the hundreds of things I’ve written, and the thousands of pieces I’ve edited, the problem is, indeed, usually one of coherence: How does this sentence relate to those that precede it? Why are you telling me this now? Where are we going?
- BONUS! The perfect writer: “Someone once asked me what made for a perfect writer. I thought about it for a long time and wrote a list.”
** Really embarrassing but I just realized that if you Google “hamlet plato,” said paper is the third result.
I got the new iPhone 6 and took the opportunity to not restore it from a back-up (of course I backed it up that morning anyway). I’m down to about 70 apps from 170+. Feels great to get rid of hoarding tendencies in real life and digitally.
EDIT: For you, Vy and Mickael — my current home screen:
I’ve been meaning to write a longer post about the apps I use and the processes I’ve set up to go between them, but that’s a separate and longer post for later.
I’m currently trying out CloudMagic (over Mailbox; hat tip to Mia for the rec) for their cards connecting apps like ToDoist, Asana, Evernote, Pocket and others. It also has a reminder feature to boomerang back emails to you, similar to Mailbox’s “later” feature. Mailbox’s “later” feature was becoming another blackhole for me (see my Instapaper) and I never liked the override of labels in Gmail. The current version for iOS 8 crashes multiple times a day, but I like the design, fonts, and features so I’m being lenient and hoping they fix this soon.
I’ll explain Captio next because it integrates with why I like CloudMagic. Captio lets you email yourself a note with just one click so I use that frequently with random to-do notes/thoughts. It’s simply just the fastest in terms of one-off notes for me. Though I’ve used Captio before CloudMagic, CloudMagic lets me send the note from Captio to ToDoist, which has a Gmail extension** (which is more or less my dashboard for work). This is important because I’ve tried many, many, many to-do lists and none work that well because they become stuck in the app and not integrated with my normal workflow. Google Tasks is ok, but I wish there were an official app. Google Calendar tasks are the ideal for me, but there’s no good app for that (Calendar + Tasks). For now, I use Sunrise as my calendar app. I have no really good reason besides that I like its design best.
My favorite app right now is Nuzzel. I don’t need to delete them, but I have been trying to limit my use of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram on my phone. They feel like wasted time. Here’s Om Malik with more on Nuzzel — he nicely captures how it’s drastically changed my Twitter habits:
It is uncomplicated, it is simple and did I say, it is useful. Damn useful, to be precise … Nuzzel is doing one thing and one thing only — giving me a quick and easy way to surface the stories that are being shared by my social networks. The stories that are most popular with my network quickly rise to the top, and I can sort them based on time elapsed — two hours, four hours or eight hours. There is option to find the latest, most recent stories that are popular with my peeps. And then there is the best option — what friends of friends are reading. It is like Techmeme and Twitter had a baby.
Nuzzel, in many ways allows me to derive maximum value from my Twitter graph, minus the noisy chatter.
I’m also trying out Headspace for 10 minute meditation (h/t to Elizabeth Spiers). Another health one that makes it to the home screen for me is Sleep Cycle. I’ve used it for a couple years now and love the light alarm to wake you up at the most optimal time within a designated time frame. I use 30 minutes. I also wake up between 5-5:30 a.m. so anything to make that less unpleasant is welcome. Speaking of waking up, if you don’t use f.lux, which is a Mac app, I highly recommend it if you’re working at odd times of the day and don’t want your eyes to fall victim to the ~blue glow~.
Ok, your turn — what does your home screen look like and what are some of your favorite apps?
** Reminding myself to write another post on Gmail extensions, but for now: Must haves for me are Streak and Boomerang. Streak is one of the best kept secrets, I think. Don’t tell anyone else about it.
“Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends … The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.”
I’ve been thinking about this study a lot. I think this is mostly true, though I’m not sure that government surveillance example was the best case to test “the spiral of silence.” I’d be more curious about the protests in Ferguson and race relations in the U.S. and social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, etc.
Aside from the actual study, I think the findings largely comport with the fact that social media, at least in terms of Facebook and Twitter, are actually not that great for debate in the first place (I’d argue that blogging and very, very few comment sections can be more civilized and productive) and that many people don’t feel the need to express their opinions in a pseudo-public place (versus in-person) anyway for any multitude of reasons, but most likely for employment purposes.
The researchers set out to investigate the effect of the Internet on the so-called spiral of silence, a theory that people are less likely to express their views if they believe they differ from those of their friends, family and colleagues. The Internet, many people thought, would do away with that notion because it connects more heterogeneous people and gives even minority voices a bullhorn.
Instead, the researchers found, the Internet reflects the offline world, where people have always gravitated toward like-minded friends and shied away from expressing divergent opinions. (There is a reason for the old rule to avoid religion or politics at the dinner table.)
And in some ways, the Internet has deepened that divide. It makes it easy for people to read only news and opinions from people they agree with. In many cases, people don’t even make that choice for themselves.
(Emphasis is mine.) The in-person facet and the platforms’ algorithms are the most interesting to me than the need or willingness to express divergent opinions though. I think a lot about how people get their news THEN interact and process that information with those they know, whether it’s friends, family, or colleagues.
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