I’m implicitly biased

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This recent episode of Philosophy Bites is a good one. The topic is the implicit biases we all have. Jennifer Saul, the head of the philosophy department at University of Sheffield, outlines research on the subject and, quite rightly, calls her own profession on the carpet for having a strong male bias.

Best quote of the cast: “I think a bit more humility would be good for the profession.”

The most intriguing line: “It turns out that even being primed with objectivity makes you more prone to biases.”

Here’s a few questions it raised for me: If I have inescapable biases, how do I deal with them? Does acknowledging my biases help mitigate their impact, or does it simply mean that I’m transparent about my irrational beliefs while still having them? Should we all make a list of our biases and share them like business cards?

Complex solutions for simple problems

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I went to the restroom at the Ventura mall on Friday. Never mind that I was in a mall. (You will never find a more wretched hive of greed and superficiality). The point of this story is elsewhere. More specifically, in the restroom. Like many commercial restrooms everything there was automatic–the urinal, the faucet, the soap dispenser, and the towel dispenser. Everything.

The problem was, the faucet and the soap dispenser were broken. I waved my hand like a crazy person in front of the sensors for the faucet and the dispenser. Nothing.

Frustrating, yes. Annoying, yes. Unsanitary, most definitely. Technologically questionable, also yes.

When an older faucet or dispenser broke the fix was mechanical, which meant even I could get it up and working again. A trip to the local hardware store and boom! Sir Fix-a-lot (yours truly) conquers another DIY dragon. With the new hardware the issue is digital, which means that pretty much no one can fix it. Yours truly doesn’t even know where to start.

This issue has several dimensions to me: epistemological (are we designing ourselves into an epistemological corner where a tiny percentage of people will be qualified to repair these items?); ecological (is this a good use of very limited resources—such as rare earth minerals?); complexity theory (as things become more complex do they become more inefficient?); and practical (how do we fix these items in a timely manner?). I can envision a time when people won’t be able to do the easiest of tasks, like changing the spark plugs in their…oh, wait, never mind.

Seriously, why are we spending time and energy making simple things more complex? Unfortunately, it seems more like a fascination with gadgetry than a valuable contribution to our future. That’s my half pence, at least.

Sleep Cycle/Pandora Workaround

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This is an ubergeek post. Those who know me know that in addition to my predilection for physical and philosophical challenges, I’m also an inveterate Machead/technology freak. With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to share a little workaround I found that makes me very happy. And probably only me.

I like to listen to music as I drift off to sleep. No, not my typical music, but a meditative, relaxing, zen-inducing mix that I’ve created on Pandora.

I’ve also been using Sleep Cycle on my iPhone for over a year. It’s a very smart little app that tracks my sleep patterns and actually wakes me on my wake cycle, as opposed to shocking me out of a dead sleep. (It also does a great job of showing me how little sleep I’m getting).

The trouble was a) Pandora has really annoying ads that pop me right out of my zen/slipping-of-to-dreamland state, and b) I would have to wake up anyway to deactivate Pandora/activate Sleep Cycle and then try to go back to sleep.

The solution came to me after I read an article about how cell signals were definitely affecting my brain. Well, I thought, from now on I’m setting my iPhone to Airplane Mode at night.

Epiphany

Turns out Pandora caches at least a song’s worth of data in RAM, which means that when I switch to Airplane Mode, I’ve got about 5 minutes of music remaining. So my new routine is to switch on Airplane Mode, activate Sleep Cycle, and drift off to sleep knowing that I don’t have to wake up until Sleep Cycle brings on the surf and the pan flutes in the morning. Problem solved. Next, world hunger.

/ubergeek

The increasing utility of Things

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That title should probably read “My increasing ability to use Things,” because that’s essentially what continues to happen: I’m developing better and better ways of making Things work for me.

Which begs the question: should I alter my workflow to accommodate an application, or should the application be flexible enough to accommodate my workflow?

I’m going to propose that any time I encounter a new application I don’t have a workflow, and neither does anyone else. From an epistemological perspective, learning any new program, even as I attempt to set it up to follow an established workflow, will cause me to reevaluate and very likely revise my workflow.

Enough philosophy; let’s get real.

History: about two months ago I had 8 tag “categories” and about 40 “subcategories” that I used to slice and dice my tasks into incredibly fine contexts. For instance, a task might be tagged thusly:

  • Context: work
  • Time Commitment: 15 min
  • Priority: high
  • Place: office
  • Method: computer
  • Means: lawson
  • Teammate: bob

It was all too much. I was spending more time categorizing my tasks than I was actually doing them. I don’t know if this was because I was procrastinating or because I am a control freak, but it really was useless. And confusing.

So I cut back drastically. Now I have three parent categories, context, priority, and time, and that’s it.

Here’s a typical day of task management. I’m going to start in the afternoon, because my workflow in the morning is determined by my preparation the afternoon before:

  • Afternoon: review remaining tasks in Today and prioritize accordingly, then switch to the Next view and determine if there are any tasks that need to be moved to Today for the following morning; finally, switch to the Inbox and disposition any tasks I’ve added throughout the day
  • Morning: Quickly review the Today list as a whole before filtering the list by context, priority, and time. I do the most critical items with the shortest time commitment first, then I generally move to longer and longer times until I get to those tasks which will take an hour or more—for these I’ve blocked time on my calendar to work on at specific times—then I move to the next-highest priority and work my way through the time tags until my list is effectively clear; the other time I block my calendar is when I know the task is going to require focus and I need to mitigate distractions.

All this is in the context of a regular day of work, of course, with all it’s emails, phone calls, IMs, texts, and visits from peers and employees. This is another reason I block time on my calendar for time or focus-intensive tasks: call it defensive calendaring. If I don’t block time someone will invite me to a meeting or see that I’m free and drop in for 30 minutes of productivity-killing chat—which is sometimes just what the psychiatrist ordered, only not when I have a deadline to meet or if I need my creative space.

The critically important qualities of Things are its inherent simplicity and its flexibility; they allow my to adjust and build the task management system that works for me. If I want to create an incredibly complex system, as I did at first, it even allows me to do that. In short, it’s one of my all-time favorite applications.