I was still thinking about the pernicious effects of smartphones on attention when I wrote the comic. I have been trying to listen to more audio books instead of doomscrolling. I listened to “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “Effortless” by Greg Mckeown over the last few weeks. There is an interesting tension between them. I agree with both. It takes deep work to make progress. It takes real, effortless recreation to recover from that deep work. Maybe I’ll write something about that at some point.
I posted a video this week about the Drexler-Smalley debate. The big question was “Can we make a nano-3D printer that can fabricate literally anything?” My PhD is in chemistry, and I have experience with using photolithography for microfabrication as well as building simple bio-inspired nano-machines. So I have some of the relevant background and context to explain this. I put the edited text-version at the end of this post.
I’ve collected a bunch of cool articles and links, too.
Neal Stephenson published the Diamond Age in 1996. I read it while I was in high school (about 1997). I was hooked on the ideas of nanotechnology and post-scarcity presented in the novel. I earned my PhD in bioanalytical chemistry in 2008. I went into my field in some ways because of this science fiction novel. I wanted to learn how to analyze and then build the kinds of nano-machines that life is made of.
I decided to re-read it recently. I put up a video review, too. Continue reading
I’ve been making friends with the crows at work. This week, one of them did the clicky rattle call at me. I think it might be a friendly sound? I think most of their communication is body language, but it’s cool when they vocalize at me.
I just finished the second in Jason “David Wong” Pargin’s Zoey Ashe series. I put off reading it because of the title, Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick. It’s embarrassing to even talk about the book thanks to the title. I’m just going to call it Zoey Ashe 2. I aksi made a video review about it. It’s my second Sci-Fi and Mixology video.
Something in Zoey Ashe 2 stood out to me: Zoey is serious about the responsibility that comes with wealth. She inherited a huge fortune in Book 1. At one point in Book 2, Zoey gets her people to fix a squeak in her air conditioning system. It costs twenty-six thousand dollars. She freaks out. She knows that, before she was rich, that much money would have changed her life. And she just spent it to fix a squeak. And the money didn’t come from reputable businesses, either. Twenty six thousand dollars represents a few percent profit on a lot of human misery. She is struggling to come up with something to do about it.
I regularly use an app called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a to-do list that syncs across my computer and smart phone. It has multiple lists so that I can categorize things a little bit. It has priorities so that I can sort things according to near-term and far term. It does due dates. It does notes. It saves URLs. It’s a pretty comprehensive little app.
Remember the Milk is my “bucket” for the Getting Things Done method. David Allen suggested in Getting Things Done that he needed to have some trusted, central location to put to-do items. By having such a trusted place to put all his to-do’s, he could put them out of his mind and focus on doing something. Trying to keep track of all the things he was afraid of forgetting in his head made him almost crazy. He calls this trusted to-do list his “bucket.”
I try to do the same. When I’m reading email or working on a project, I look for to-do’s. Even cleaning the house brings up to-do’s (like buying soap or ordering vacuum bags). Trying to hold those in my head would drive me crazy. My head is full. Instead, they all go in the app. If I have an idea for a blog, it goes in the app. If I remember that I need to change the oil in the car, it goes in the app. Then they get sorted out later.
How do I sort them? I find that Covey’s First Things First method is most appropriate for me. He divides things according to importance and urgency. Things that are important-and-urgent are Quadrant I. Things that are important-but-not-urgent are Quadrant II. The non-important are divided into Quadrants III and IV accordingly.
Everything goes in the bucket. The bucket get sorted into the quadrants. The to-do’s get done immediately, go on the calendar (if there’s a due date) or go on the scrum board (if they are Q2 – important but have no due date). Some things get thrown away. The shorter the list, the happier I am.
I have tried three different meditation apps and found all of them have very good points. The first app I tried was called Headspace. It is well organized, habit-forming, and I like Andy Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the founder of Headspace and does all the guided meditations). He also did a TED talk which I suspect increased his visibility and gave his app a big boost. The only complaint I have about headspace is that it is very expensive. It costs $13 per month (though they have discounts for longer-term subscriptions). Their lifetime membership cost is $400. For me, it was worth it for one year to learn the skill, but not worth it for multiple years.
Brain.FM is a browser/mobile app that plays binaural beats while you work so that you can focus better. Binaural beats are an odd perceptual phenomenon. If you play two sounds that have almost the same frequency, the interference between the two waveforms makes what is called a beat frequency (beat frequency youtube demo). Here’s the weird thing: if you play one tone into your left ear, and a second tone into your right ear, you perceive the beat frequencies despite the waves not physically interfering with each other. Our brain reconstructs the beat frequency from the difference between the two tones. Supposedly, if that beat frequency matches certain brainwave frequencies, it can induce certain moods and mental states.
I don’t know if that is going to work for everyone. There seems to be some evidence that binaural beats do affect brain waves. It does seem to help me: there are different binaural beats for sleep, focus, and meditation. All of them seem to perform as advertised for me. The brain.FM app also has several guided meditations that I find useful. I got the lifetime subscription to brain.FM with a discount code; that offer seems to have expired, but there do seem to be other discounts available from time to time.
The third app I tried for meditation is Calm.com. The app can act as a background noise generator. It can make the sound of splashing water or wind through the trees (and several other pleasant sounds). I liked those when I was working in a shared office and needed some background noise to help me tune out distractions. They now offer several guided meditations and “sleep stories.” I’m excited to try sleep stories. I guess it’s like a meditative bedtime story to help you go to sleep. I usually don’t fall asleep well if I can hear talking or music. Still, I have found that a relaxation exercise before bed does help me sleep.
Bonus: I have also tried the insight timer which has a simple timer with chimes at regular intervals. It also has community-uploaded guided meditations. A few of those are good but most of them have a lot of ambient music that I don’t like very much (think sitars, zithers and didgeridoos).