Monthly Archives: April 2008

Instructions to myself on productivity

After my thoughts on Saturday, I gathered the ideas my mind had been quietly collecting about what my productivity problems were and what I thought I could do about them. I wrote them in my offline journal and present them to you here, revised a little for public presentation:

Okay, so I need to get more focused.

So how do I do it?

  1. Unsubscribe from all my RSS feeds except my friends, podcasts, and webcomics. Reading all those little things takes a lot of time that I could be spending working. Everything that is spent on one thing is time taken from something else! When I subscribe to feeds, my purpose is to keep up with what’s going on in those subject areas. The purpose of that is mostly to have things to talk about with people. I think the real purpose ends up being simply to fill my mind with more and more interesting things.

    Those are decent goals, but they’re really unnecessary. If I need to find out about a subject, I can just research it. I don’t need to keep up with it all the time through a regularly updating source. And the benefits aren’t worth the cost of not getting projects done that I care about more.

    So unsubscribing from everything feels somewhat uncomfortable, like I’m giving up too much, but I was living just fine without them before I subscribed.

  2. Multitask less. I think that when I’m doing more than one thing at once, it increases the time it takes to do the main task by three. This is not good. I need to toughen up my mind so that I can endure the boredom and difficulty of work. I need to turn off IM, close Google, and work. I need to say no to my whims and write them down to return to them later.

  3. Give myself permission to do half a task. Otherwise, I’ll wait till an unknown time in the future when I have enough time to do the whole task. So think of my work as happening in 5 or 15 minute chunks when I feel busy. This has been working well for blogging this week. Amazingly well.

  4. Do my work in large chunks when possible. I get bogged down looking at how much farther I have to go on a task, but I sometimes can make a lot of progress in a short amount of time. I need to observe how this happens. It happened tonight [Saturday] with An Ordinary Day with Jesus. I finished the last three lessons, one of which was rather long, plus some of the back matter. Maybe it was because it was the final stretch, or it might have been the time of day (specifically, night—sorry, people who think morning is the only time of day God declared good, night is just the best time for my mind; deal with it).

  5. Avoid delays. I often crave large chunks of time for my projects. This would happen if I would leave work on time, get home quickly, and get to work right when I finish dinner, or perhaps work during dinner. I should do this rather than having to work late because my schedule got thrown off earlier in the day, dawdling on the computer after work, doing errands after work that I could put off till the weekend, and leaping onto IM and the web after dinner. Everything I say yes to is a no to something else! Similarly, a no to what is immediate may be a yes to what is more important.

  6. Write before reading. My first impulse is usually to research, but often (a) I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, and sharpening my question would focus my research; or (b) I already know what I’m trying to find out, but I needlessly feel dependent on other people’s input or I feel too lazy to write. Before I wrote this I began looking for information on productivity, but I realized that I already had a lot of ideas in my mind for what my problems were and what I needed to do differently.

  7. Plan before implementing. This is especially important in programming, and I am already trying to put it into practice there. I still need more practice. Planning is also important for other tasks, though I tend to discount it for research. At some point I want to learn (or create first!) tools for planning.

  8. While researching or writing, eliminate excess. I would like to be able to work on autopilot, but really my mind has to always be working while I’m reading or writing. In order to take effective notes, for example, I have to know exactly what kind of information I’m looking for and actively ignore everything else, as in, acknowledge it and pass it over on purpose. And if the author is too wordy, I have to rewrite his points so my notes don’t sprawl and I don’t quote the whole work. I just have to make sure my rewriting is reworded enough so that it isn’t a quote, or I have to make it clear that it’s almost a quote so I can further rewrite it later. I need to come up with my semi-mechanical paraphrasing method.

    The same may go for writing. I tend to write somewhat stream of consciousness, but I think there’s something to be said for boiling my thoughts down to their unnuanced essence and just recording that for time’s sake. I’m not sure though. I might reserve that technique for only certain occasions, since I think recording the whole thought process and all the nuances is so valuable. What brought this paragraph on was mostly that I was thinking today about how reading takes so long because authors are often so wordy when it really isn’t necessary.

  9. Don’t research aimlessly. This is sort of the flip side of 6 and a corollary to 7, 8, and maybe 5. I research a topic looking for more information that will be useful. But I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, and in my present-immersed mind, anything that seems interesting feels important, so my searching could go on forever. I need ways to limit this, and maybe simply not searching is the best way to start. But also I need to cultivate the habit and skill of evaluating my searches as I go. I need to be present to what I’m doing and not simply do it.

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Too much to think about

This morning I was catching up on my RSS feeds, and it led me to a thread on TheologyWeb about whether Catholicism or Orthodoxy was the way to go. I skimmed the first page or so, partly because the responses weren’t very serious, partly because I was just trying to get through everything, and partly because I was only vaguely interested in the topic, but it got me thinking about epistemology. I asked myself what I would need to assume in order to believe that Catholicism or Orthodoxy was the truth. I have no idea, of course, but the important thing is that it defined a research question for me. I do this constantly. It also led me to think about how I go about thinking in general. It’s something I want to write about at some point—introspection, defining research questions, backing up from one question to ask others that lie behind it, et cetera.

Later in my feed reading I ran across some discussion of the upcoming ESV Study Bible. Often when I read about the ESV, I like to look for its critics, because I find the breathless gushing of its fans to be silly. This time I found something from Iyov, a blog I hadn’t seen before. And whenever I read debates about the ESV, I usually see comments by Suzanne McCarthy, who posts at the Better Bibles blog. And she is usually talking about inclusive language and gender roles. She sometimes seems rather passionate about it. Today I learned that the reason this is such an important issue to her is that she grew up in a complementarian church that took the idea of submission to extremes.

The question of gender roles in the Bible is one of those issues on my long list that I plan to study one day when I have time, but I’m not emotionally invested in it because it hasn’t touched my life in a personal way. Today as usual I only glanced at Suzanne’s posts and the responses to her because they usually deal with technical details that I won’t feel like deciphering until I seriously study the topic.

Instead I thought about the fact that people devote so much time to such specific issues. Given the fact that I had just been pondering how to decide between two of the major Christian traditions, asking whether women should be allowed to speak in church seems like getting ahead of ourselves. Now, specialization is important. Research in any field involves gathering information from many different sources on many different issues, so we need scholars to follow their interests and ask all the obscure little questions that no one else cares about … until those questions happen to relate to their own. So Suzanne should continue to investigate the questions that drive her.

But there are soooo many of these issues, and everything requires a debate. Nothing worth knowing is cut and dried. And everything takes so much time to learn and deliberate about. If this is true for fundamental topics like God’s existence that are needed for deciding on other issues, like (in my opinion) whether personhood begins at conception, how can anyone hope to get anywhere? I concluded that everyone has to choose their battles and make a lot of big assumptions to cover the rest.

The battles I prefer mostly have to do with those fundamental questions, which leaves me less time to deal with the everyday life questions that those answers are meant to make possible, but maybe my answers, if I find any, can help other people with those other questions. Of course, no one has universally settled any of those fundamental questions so far, so I don’t expect to, but maybe I can at least hope to gather better information and arguments for grounding the conclusions that I and those who agree with me decide to adopt.

What this tells me is that I have a lot of work to do, and I am wasting time in many ways, most immediately by reading all these RSS feeds, which give me interesting things to think about but which spread out my attention and take it away from my own core questions, when I should be spending time sharpening those questions and carrying out specific and diligent investigations of them.

I don’t know how I will do it, with my scattered and work-intolerant mind, but I must find a way. Continue reading

Posted in Epistemology, Productivity | 2 Comments

And now for a normal entry

Well, yesterday was rather interesting. I overslept again and didn’t go to the gym like I had planned. But I did finally go get a blood test, which I’d been putting off. The nurse definitely had a procedure down for doing this kind of thing, with words and phrases to give instructions and little warnings (like, “This will be tight,” for the rubber band around my arm and, “Stick,” when she stuck the needle in). She obviously prioritized efficiency over personableness, though she wasn’t unfriendly. In a way I admired her method. It did get the job done, and I was happy to have done a blood test there the year before so I would know how to cooperate and make the whole operation go smoothly. The blood test took less time than I expected, so I was a little earlier to work than usual.

At two we had a birthday party for one of our coworkers, as we usually do, and the theme was chocolate, which is pretty much the theme every day in our office, but especially today. I decided I would gorge myself, so I had both a chocolate icing covered brownie and chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup. I could have done with just the brownie, which was extremely good, and I felt a bit overloaded and had to eat kind of slowly toward the end to avoid feeling sick. Unfortunately I had gotten myself a frosty from Wendy’s earlier and had just been drinking a root beer, so after the party I felt the need to drink lots of water to dilute all the sugar.

I didn’t feel much like working that day, probably because I’ve been getting too little sleep lately, and finally at around 3:30 I decided to take a nap in my car, which I’ve been doing more than I’m comfortable with this week, but it’s hard to work when you’re falling asleep at your desk. So I slept for a while and then just sat there for a few minutes, enjoying the warm but somewhat breezy day and the intense green of the grass and bushes in front of me.

After work I went to the bank and then to get a haircut, where I listened to the hair stylist tell another customer about being hit on on her way to work that day by a guy in his car. He said, “How are you?” while they were stopped at a traffic light and asked for her phone number. The light changed and she turned the corner, but he actually followed her and flashed her lights so she would pull over, which she did, cautiously, and he got out and asked for her number. She decided to give it to him, and when she got to work he had texted her. Her first question was, “Are you married?” because she had intuited that he was, and she was right. Well, that wouldn’t work for her because as she put it, she doesn’t share. She seemed to be very pragmatic about it. Her only objection to having an affair was apparently that she didn’t want to deal with a jealous wife. I hoped there was some moral commitment to the sanctity of marriage that she wasn’t stating for social reasons, but I can only guess. In any case, it was an interesting story and certainly not something that happened to her every day!

After my haircut my next goal was to buy some new dress shoes because my current ones are coming apart. I knew exactly which ones I was going to buy—Berry by Nunn Bush, the exact kind I have now—and exactly where I would buy them, Famous Footwear, because it’s the same store I bought them in last time, and I happened to know that they still carried them. Usually I have to find shoes that are almost like the shoes I have at the time because I buy cheap brands that I guess change models every year or maybe go out of business. But last time I was annoyed at having my shoes fall apart so quickly, so I bought something a little more permanent but still not expensive.

They had the shoe I wanted but not the size, so the girl at the register ordered it for me to be home delivered (well, work delivered in my case), with no shipping charge, which was nice. The card reader wouldn’t read my debit card, and she said that the reader had been having trouble ever since the earthquake last week. Mysteeerious. I like it when odd little things like that happen.

When I got home, I cooked some noodles, and while my water was heating up, I did some dishes. One of them was a large plate that had sat on the stove next to the pot of water for too long, and when I picked it up, I burned my right thumb and index finger pretty badly. They look fine, but for hours afterward, I had to keep them cool or they would start burning after less than a minute. At first I ran water over them or kept them in a glass of water, but then I froze a large bag of water and kept another bag in the freezer to switch them when the first bag melted. That worked out well. And when I woke up in the middle of the night, my fingers had recovered.

The last time I had to do that was when I was again cooking and had gotten some jalapeño juice on my thumb, and I suppose it crept into some cracks in my skin. It burned. I don’t recommend using jalapeño juice as, for instance, a hand lotion. Continue reading

Posted in Birthdays, Blood tests, Burns, Chocolate, Cooking, Earthquakes, Haircuts, Naps, Shoes, Slice of life | 2 Comments

Latest projects: Copleston’s History of Philosophy

On February 28 I was reflecting again about my career path, and I took a rather decisive step towards philosophy. Over the past several years I have been weighing two options for my career: philosophy (in which I would write and teach) and psychology (in which I would be a counselor). I’ve see-sawed back and forth, but that day I realized that the weight had tipped more clearly to the side of philosophy.

I realized again that I really do value my diverse interests, and it would be nice if my career could reflect them. I could see that happening with philosophy, because philosophy professors regularly list their research interests in their faculty profiles, and they are often collections like, “Philosophy of physics and decision theory,” or, “philosophical theology, philosophical psychology, the epistemologies of the early modern philosophers, and the works
of David Hume, St. Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards” or, “Business Ethics and Policy; Kant; Induction and Confirmation; Ethics; Philosophy of Religion,” or, “Media Philosophy, Ethics, Social & Political Philosophy, Informal Logic & Critical Thinking Pedagogy, Aesthetics.” In one way, philosophy is a meta-discipline. It’s a field of study in which you think about the nature of other fields.

Psychology is a diverse field, of course, but it’s still only psychology, and I have found that as with all my other interests, my level of interest in it comes and goes. My key observation during this cycle of reflection was that over the past year I have had a number of opportunities to get back into psychology, such as during Stephen Ministry training, but it hasn’t happened. That makes me think psychology is just one of the crowd rather than a career-making preoccupation.

I like helping people, but there are plenty of ways I could help people as a philosopher. I could do philosophical counseling or be an advisor to some organization, for instance. The world needs people who can think. Bad thinking can hurt people, and an awful lot of it goes on: People don’t listen to each other for understanding; they let their preconceptions, worries, and desires rule their whole thought process; they make bad arguments for good causes that turn people off who might otherwise be convinced; etc.

So now I’m about 95% sure philosophy is my field. Once I decided that, I began thinking about my next steps. I don’t really know that much about the actual discipline of philosophy because I’m more interested in it as a way of thinking than as a subject, so I need to get familiar with it. My plans are rather vague, but I think I should find out what the major schools are, what they specialize in, and who are the major publishers of philosophical books and journals. I’d like to flip through some of the journals and get an idea of what philosophers are talking about these days and who some of the major players are. And for a long time I’ve wanted to interview a few philosophy professors to get an idea of what it’s like to be one and check some of my assumptions.

And I also need to learn the history of philosophy, because it seems ridiculous to even apply for a philosophy program without having some sense of context, which brings me to my next project. The classic work on this topic is Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume History of Philosophy. So my goal is to work through the whole thing in the next year or two. I also have plans involving an outline and flashcards so that I will actually remember the things I read and learn some study skills that I never really got the hang of in school, but I’m not entirely sure about the details there. I was going to derive the outline from Copleston, but I may take it from some more straightforward source, like the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, and just read Copleston to tie everything together and provide some commentary. I think that would save me some work.

There’s a programming project in there too. I’d like to be able to generate the flashcards from the outline (or from a concept map, which is a bit more flexible, though more work to put together) in a comprehensive fashion so that I could essentially start from anywhere in the outline (or any node in the concept map) and, in a step-by-step fashion, reproduce the whole thing from memory. Memorizing that much would be a challenge, but I don’t think the flashcard creating program would be too hard. Then the flashcard data I generated would be fed into the open source program jMemorize, which uses the Leitner method for spacing out the repetitions.

The biggest challenge in this Copleston project, other than not giving up altogether, will of course be trying to juggle both it and the spirituality survey. Hopefully along the way I can learn skills in juggling as well as studying. Continue reading


Latest projects: systematic spirituality survey

Back when I was doing my audio sermon project (which is technically still open, though I haven’t worked on it in months), my friend Rob asked me if it had worked, if I felt more spiritually vital. I told him not extremely, and that was that; but it got me thinking. I didn’t expect the sermon project to fix my spiritual life, but it was useful to ask what I still needed that these audio sermons weren’t giving me.

The first thing I needed was a way to internalize what I was hearing. I have that now with my morning devotions.

The other thing I needed was a system, a set of interrelated concepts that I could drop each sermon into. Without a system to give context and balance to the pieces, I feel lost. I tend to get tunnel vision when I try to take any particular spiritual principle seriously. I either forget about anything else (less often now than in the past) or I ward off doing that by wondering what principles I’m forgetting or how this principle relates to others I do remember. It hinders my willingness to act on those principles or to be confident in explaining them to others.

So I intend my next major project to be a systematic New Testament spirituality survey. I want to assemble a fairly detailed framework of Christian spirituality made of the NT’s comments on the subject. I won’t attempt to go very far below the surface; I just want to get a good idea of the raw material we’re working with when we discuss Christian spirituality. I have actually had this project in mind for a number of years. Now just seemed to be the right time to do it.

When I mention this project to people, they sometimes ask what I mean by spirituality. I mean anything that has to do with humans’ relationship to God. In Christianity that covers a whole lot. So studying the spirituality of the NT is more like looking at the whole NT from a spiritual angle than looking at a specific, limited topic like baptism, which would involve examining only a few passages. Looking at the whole NT from one vantage point like this will mean studying every passage to some degree and will mainly affect what details I select to concentrate on in each case and the kinds of connections I make between concepts.

With a framework, when I think about, for example, John 6:37, I’m hoping my mind will easily move to somewhere like Matthew 7:21, and I will be more able to discuss how they fit together and how a person would land themselves in the John 6 crowd and avoid being in the one from Matthew 7, especially given a scary verse like 7:13.

I will also be able to hear a verse like Mark 12:30 and have my mind move more easily down to the specifics and out to the motivations for obeying these commands.

And I will be more easily able to pinpoint the passages that are the most appropriate for my own spiritual needs or for other people I’m talking to.

So primarily I want to have a rough mental map of the Christian spiritual life for the good of my own. One other reason I want to do this project is to have a starting place for my broader historical study of Christian spirituality. I want to be able to connect the teachings of Christian spiritual writers with the Bible’s framework of spirituality so I can know the biblical context of those teachings and thus understand them better. Knowing their connections with Scripture will also help me evaluate them.

I’ve nailed down the first half of my procedure. In order to get a clear idea of all the pieces of the text and how they relate, I’m going to do a quick and dirty discourse analysis of the whole NT in English. I’ll use the WEB for my translation because it’s in the public domain, and I’ll use CmapTools to create the discourse analysis diagrams because it’s free and has a handy XML format. I have already done a few chapters.

As that’s moving along, I’ll be working on the other step in the process, which is actually assembling the system. This will be either a normal prose description or something more formal and programmable like a concept map. I’ll decide that as the project progresses. It took me several months to settle on using discourse analysis.

I plan to post the results on the site, probably as I go along. I have no idea how long this project will take. Continue reading

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Latest projects: Lord of the Beef audio editing

I’m sort of sick right now, and I went to be semi-early last night, aiming to get around 10 hours of sleep, but my body decided it was done with that after 7 of them, so I am taking the opportunity to blog.

These next few posts are a continuation of my “What’s been going on” series, but I’m titling them differently because they’re also in a category of their own, my latest projects. As some of you may know, my life revolves around my personal projects, which usually involve researching things, writing, or creating things, usually computer programs or some other kind of tool.

Right now I am in a period of transition between projects. A couple of weeks ago, on Good Friday at 3:12 in the morning to be exact, I finished a project that I had dragged out over a year and a half, editing my friend Brandon’s Lord of the Rings parody. The first half of this project was editing the text, and then I recorded and edited his readings of it over Paltalk, plus his reading of The Tugger, which is his Hobbit parody, and a couple of other shorter readings.

If you want to listen to it, here’s the TheologyWeb thread where I posted the files. The thread contains links to the other threads that contain the text files, if you want to read it. At the end of that thread, Brandon posted some of the funny grammatical, logical, and other problems I caught while editing the text, along with the frustrated or sarcastic remarks I made about them while editing and his comments on my comments. I also posted a link to yet another thread for the audio bloopers. Unfortunately, the forum I posted it in is only accessible to TWeb members. I may repost those sometime in one of the public forums. The audio and textual errors were the best part of the whole project. 😉

Warning: This parody is very long. Together the Lord of the Beef and the Tugger make up about 14 hours of reading. For that reason it is not the kind of project I’m going to be volunteering for again anytime in the near future.

Another warning: The parody might not make much sense to you unless you understand TWeb culture. It’s really less of a parody and more a set of TWeb inside jokes that use the Lord of the Rings as a framework. But Brandon included a preface that explains the major characters and jokes and should give you an idea of what’s going on. The Hobbit is called the Tugger, for example, because the central feature of Brandon’s TWeb parodies is the teasing of a member named RumTumTugger, who plays a female version of Frodo in the Lord of the Beef.

Even though the LotB isn’t a typical parody, Brandon has a remarkable ability to make connections, and I was impressed by the sheer number of elements he was able to pack creatively into the story, not only from TheologyWeb, but also Star Wars, Monty Python, Pirates of the Caribbean, probably other movies I can’t remember, various Internet memes, and many random American cultural features. It’s worth reading just for that.

So now that project’s done, and my mind has been freed. I will post about my upcoming projects tonight or tomorrow. Continue reading

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