Weekend Reading: Own Goal Edition

LEGO model of St. Joseph'sSometimes, it’s the thing you don’t do that helps you get things done. In the comments on my “Sabbatical and Productivity-Talk” post, someone wrote about how having a successful surgery during sabbatical was the most important thing they achieved. That made sense, because my worst decision of 2010 was to have elective outpatient surgery in early February. Not only did things go awry with the surgery itself, which is never welcome news, but it has had cascading effects on my entire year, since I was more or less out of it all spring. What kills me is that that setback was totally self-inflicted: I could’ve had the surgery in the summer, or at any other time, and the consequences would’ve been far different. All because I assumed that naturally everything would go well, instead of considering that, just maybe, something might not. The lesson: I’m an idiot.

A quick programming note: George and I will be at the 2010 EDUCAUSE conference next week. We’re doing a presentation about ProfHacker on Wednesday at 1.30, and if you’re at the conference, we’d love to meet you. Get in touch!

  • “Searching for the Victorians,” Dan Cohen’s talk from last weekend’s Victorians Institute conference, asks a simple, far-reaching question: What we might do with all of Victorian literature—-not a sample, or a few canonical texts, as in Houghton’s work, but all of it. . . . As Victorianists, we are rapidly approaching the time when we have access—including, perhaps, computational access—to the full texts not of thousands of Victorian books, or hundreds of thousands, but virtually all books published in the Victorian age.
  • Bridging the Nerd Gap offers “Seven Steps to Mastering Your Web Browser”: You should open your browser’s preferences right now and set that page to “about:blank”, which means “don’t load a page at all”. Think about it for a second – when was the last time you opened a new tab and fully intended to visit the site that loaded by default?
  • James Surowiecki looks at procrastination: You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.
  • Science tries to figure out how to recognize rant-y Internet trolls: Churchill and computer scientist Sara Owsley Sood of Pomona College analyzed 782,934 comments from 168,095 distinct threads from October 2009 articles on the news-story commenting site Yahoo! Buzz. To determine whether comments were on-topic or not, they first used the same techniques used by search engines to evaluate the relevance of a site to a query: The more words a comment contained that were also found in the story it was connected to, the more on-topic the comment was judged.
  • If you get lost on the internet this weekend, xkcd has thoughtfully updated their map.


In April, 2009, Merlin Mann led a panel discussion at my school with the title “Broken Meetings (and how you’ll fix them).” He’s polished it a *lot* since then, making it a proper talk:

“Broken Meetings (and how you’ll fix them)” from Merlin Mann on Vimeo.

Bonus: Mann on “‘Distraction’”.

[Image by Flickr user daveb_. / Creative Commons licensed]

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