- The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I. The full text from Richard Feynman’s lectures, originally given to Caltech students in the 1960s.
- What did the Nazis know about the Manhattan Project? Operation Epsilon was a Second World War programme where ten German scientists were detained at a house near Cambridge and spied on to see if they revealed anything about the Nazi programme to create atomic weapons. This article looks at the time where they were told that the US had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
- SubToMe. A service and bookmarklet for subscribing to feeds in a variety of feedreaders. (I’m using Feedbin these days and I love it.)
- Status Update. Heiko Julien’s Facebook statuses.
- Clean Links. An iOS app for taking a shortened URL or one with tracking code and returning something a little nicer.
- Remove to improve. Make your charts better by simplifying them. An animated guide.
It was produced in a slightly back-to-front fashion. Due to limited availability, instead of setting a voiceover to a pre-existing video, I did it the other way around. I asked Simon Bell (who you might remember from the Guide to Diagrams I described a few months ago) for his thoughts on the issues and complexity of modern air travel. He recorded his thoughts on ‘terminal cities’, the huge collection of buildings, vehicles and people that comprise a large airport.
It was then a case of digging through the BBC/Open University video archive for some footage of Heathrow, the airport in question for the duration of the series. Luckily there were some programmes that had covered the subject during previous features on Terminal 5 and the ongoing discussion around a third runway.
I grabbed a bunch of tiny clips, most only lasting a few seconds, put them in an order that seemed to fit with what Simon was saying, then added a music bed courtesy of johnny_ripper. It all fell into place really quickly and easily.
Simon was the academic advisor to the series. Although it will be live, and inherently difficult to prepare for, he’s helped ensure that the production team cover some really important and interesting topics that might otherwise go missing during a prime-time TV series.
In keeping with his fondness for understanding situations through diagrams, Simon produced a rich picture and spray diagram to make some sense of the inherent complexity of terminal cities. The fact they aren’t completely polished and they’re scanned from lined paper is kind of the point—see those guide to diagrams videos I mentioned earlier for an explanation. You can see the diagrams by using the tabs at the top of the page.
Unlike, say, Design in a Nutshell, this was a project with a £0 budget, so I was pleased to produce something at all. It would have been great to take this a little deeper and explore some of the issues in more detail, but I hope the series and the videos and articles on our website encourage more people to think about the enormous issues around modern air travel as well as the challenges faced by everyone involved at an airport like Heathrow.
Airport Live starts on Monday 17 June on BBC Two at 8pm. It broadcasts on four consecutive nights.
The movements are Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus, American Industrial Design, Modernism, and Postmodernism.
To make this, I worked with Clive Hilton, from The Open University’s Design department, and Thought Den, a bunch of talented and handsome designers, developers and animators from Bristol.
With more time or money I’d have loved to include a couple more design movements. But I really like how this came out—there are some genuinely funny moments in the videos, and the quiz/diagnostic tool thing is pretty great. People seem to really like sharing their design alter-ego on Facebook and Twitter.
One thing to note is that the design department at the OU is based in the Maths, Computing and Technology faculty, and so is more focused on product design than what we might naïvely term art and design. I don’t think this is a problem, though: these design concepts should be of interest to designers of all types and help us all understand how we got where we are.
(Btw, my design alter-ego is Ludwig Georg Van Der Pound, modernist. Have a play and see what yours is.)
Image copyright The Open University, used with permission.
We all have different levels of understanding and experience of using Google Analytics, so this was a reminder for some and an introduction for others.
Below you can see the slides—they’re very minimal. You can see the slides with accompanying notes here.
Underneath there are some Google Analytics dashboards and custom reports you can use. Log into GA and click on a link. Choose a profile to apply the dashboard or report to it. It will then be your local copy, so you can rename it or modify it for your own needs.
I’ve collected some of these resources from various places and not noted where from. If any of them are your work, let me know and I’ll give you credit and a link.
I know the following embedded thing breaks the column it’s in—sadly I can’t resize Haiku Deck embeds to make them smaller.
(Remember, you need to be logged in to GA for these links to work)
Google Analytics dashboards
- Brand monitoring. A dashboard that focuses on how people found you by searching for you. Change any mentions of ‘openlearn’ to your brand name.
- No-bullshit. A summary of important data in plain English. This is especially useful if you’re not used to the terminology of Google Analytics.
- Site usage/quality. Browsers, devices, top content and bounce/exit rates.
- Visitors technology. Summary of devices, browsers, resolution, Flash capability, etc.
Google Analytics custom reports
- Search performance. Apply this report and use advanced segments to explore paid and non-paid search traffic.
- Browser version. How your traffic copes with different browsers.
- Mobile performance. All about mobile.
- Keyword analysis. Click the ‘engagement’ tab then look for troublesome pages. Click on the page title. Are there any keywords that are irrelevant? Solve with SEO.
- Link analysis. Which sources are helping your goals?
- PPC. How are your ads doing?
- Social media. Judge the success of your social media campaigns.
Editorially is a collaborative writing and editing service. You can use it to write something, send it to colleagues, have them edit or give feedback. It is Microsoft Word’s Review tab done properly.
Today they posted about their terms of service. You know—those ghastly pages you see linked to in a website’s footer, or the thing you check the box to say you’ve read when you haven’t. The reason we don’t read them is that they’re often impenetrable, doused in legalese and written in tiny all-caps.
Their desire was to make it completely human readable and understandable, to challenge the boilerplate text we usually see when we bother to look at other ToS:
[Keeping it readable] is the first, most difficult, and most important goal when drafting terms. There is no legal reason for your terms to be opaque or confusing. Approach the writing process the same way you would any other communication with your users: use plain language, and speak like a human. Keep your sentences short and simple. Make generous use of numbered and bulleted lists where possible.
Don’t assume that commonly-used legalese is required; much oft-repeated language is the result of laziness, not a legal mandate. If your lawyer suggests language that’s thick or confusing, ask for clarification about why it’s needed, or what it intends to communicate. Then translate that into language you’d be comfortable using if you were sitting across a table from a colleague or friend.
Most of their advice is best practice for writing on the web in general—keep it short, stress the important things, make yourself understood.
The whole thing is available under a Creative Commons licence, so there’s no reason why the ToS for your website or service can’t be just as readable.
I’m not suggesting this is the most interesting, amazing thing you’ll read today—hell, you’ll read something in the next hour that is better. But these ToS are increasingly important as we give use more services and give more data away. We frequently have to adhere to statements we don’t or can’t understand, so it is refreshing for Editorially to tell us exactly what we’re getting ourselves into.
Apropos of nothing, here’s my current iPhone home screen.
Stock Apple apps
There are a bunch of apps—Messages, Calendar, Camera, Safari, Photos, Weather, Mail—for which I’ve never found alternatives I like better.
Camera is the one I’ve experimented with the most, but you can’t beat the speed and ease of access of the Camera app. Sometimes I’ll take a photo and edit it in another app, like Snapseed.
Incidentally, I always keep the camera app in the top right, as that’s where the lens is.
There are a fair few apps organised in folders on the second screen, so I like to keep them updated. Having the App Store app on the home screen is a good visual prompt.
Still really love it. I’m nervous about its future, but for now I’m happy that my friends are still using it.
My Wikipedia app of choice and used at least once a day.
Where I keep my text files and notes, synced with nvALT on my Mac. I use a system somewhat similar to Tyler Reinhard’s semantic notes to keep them organised and easy to use. (Maybe I’ll write that up someday.)
RSS is still my main source of information and it’s the bedrock for many other services I use. Reeder, for iOS and OS X, is the best-looking and easiest-to-use app I’ve found. And believe me, I’ve tried lots.
I’ve never been a huge user, but (along with lots of other people) I’m getting back into it.
I read Instapaper more on my iPad than iPhone, but unlike the iBooks and Kindle apps, it’s opened often enough to warrant a home screen position.
I use it less than I used to, but Tumblr is still terrific fun and some great writers use it for their blogs.
Like Articles, I probably use this once a day to look up films and people. Side note: if you find yourself asking which film starred actor A and actor B, or which actor was in film X and film Y, try Double Feature.
Drafts is my starting point for most things I write on my iPhone. I’m using it to start writing this piece—I’ll send it to Byword where I’ll finish it up on my Mac or iPad before publishing. Other bits of text get pushed to Mail, Simplenote, OmniFocus, Pastebot, etc as required.
I track my listening habits using Last.fm, so I use their music player instead of the stock Apple app.
I’m getting back in to podcasts using Huffduffer. I’ve tried the alternatives—which are pretty good—but the Podcasts app is fine for my needs.
I’m currently trying this out as a way to spend more time doing the things I want (or have) to spend more time on. These are things that don’t fit too well in OmniFocus. You specify a ‘thing’, the time you want to spend doing it, and the days you want to track it. So far it is keeping me motivated but I’m aware I’ve started and given up things like this in the past.
The best Twitter client by far.
This app tells me what I should be doing instead of checking everything else. All the work and personal projects I want to complete are broken down into discrete actions and saved in OmniFocus.
I use Spotify as a music audition service. I star albums when I hear about them, listen to them a few times, then buy them on iTunes if I like them. It’s more like Instapaper for music than it is an iTunes replacement.
What’s not here?
All the rest of my apps are organised in folders on the second screen. For some, muscle memory gets me to them without thinking; for others, I search using iOS Spotlight.
Where’s your phone? Well, obviously it doesn’t need to be on the home screen to receive calls, and I open all the other apps on this screen more times a day than I call someone. I’ll usually search for a contact using Spotlight before calling them. So no need for it to be easily accessible.
Zite is probably my other most-used app—I find it surfaces articles and links of interest that I’m less likely to see in RSS or social networks.
Below are some examples of using Pinboard and If This Then That (ifttt) to automate saving things you like for future reference.
Pinboard: your link archive
I use Pinboard as my personal archive. Pinboard is a faster, better version of Delicious (indeed, it is run by a former Delicious engineer). You add useful links along with optional tags and a description—things that you enjoy, or that you might find useful in future.
There is a small one-time sign-up fee that increases with new users—an interesting way to ensure the service can scale well. If you currently use Delicious, you should definitely switch; if you don’t currently save bookmarks at all (or just use your browser’s bookmarking facility), I urge you to sign up for an account. The cost is currently $10.
You can optionally pay an annual fee of $25 for full-text searching of your bookmarks and notifications of 404 errors. I recommend this, as it will make the ifttt recipes below more useful.
ifttt: how to automatically add links to your archive
I’ve previously mentioned ifttt in passing on this post about time-shifting the internet. If you’re yet to use it, it is a way to automate links between different services. You connect your various accounts (known as ‘channels’), pick triggers, then actions. As well as social networks and other web services there are channels like weather, email and SMS.
There are some banal examples (‘Tweet my Facebook status updates’, for example), but once you start thinking about the range of possible triggers and actions, you can quickly think of some potentially interesting and useful combinations:
- Email me in the morning if it’s going to rain today
- Send starred items in Google Reader to Instapaper to read later
- Post my Flickr favourites to Tumblr
And so on. These combinations are known as ‘recipes’ on ifttt.
A lot of the examples on ifttt are connected to publishing—i.e., given a certain trigger, post something to a social network. All of the examples below are the opposite. The triggers are all based on you liking or favouriting something on a social network, but the action is is silent and private—the only person who will see it will be you, in your personal archive.
My Pinboard recipes on ifttt
The idea here is that when you explicitly like something on a social network or website, ifttt will grab the URL along with any relevant metadata and save it to Pinboard as a private bookmark. The recipes below are for services that I use; there are others available that you can apply the principle to.
- Save Flickr favorites to Pinboard
- Save Tumblr likes to Pinboard
- Save SoundCloud favorites to Pinboard
- Save Instagram likes to Pinboard
- Save Vimeo likes to Pinboard
- Save YouTube favorites to Pinboard
All these recipes use the original item’s tags and description where possible and appropriate. Sadly you can’t save Twitter favorites via ifttt, although you can configure Pinboard to automatically add links from your Twitter favorites as bookmarks. You could probably hack something together with your favorites RSS feed, but it’s not something I’ve explored yet.
Tidying up and editing
By following this process, you’ll end up with a lot of private bookmarks that aren’t as meticulously tagged as the ones you add yourself. This isn’t a huge problem—if you pay for the $25 archival account, searching your archive will still surface relevant links—but you can still do some tidying up.
I find it useful to review my recently added bookmarks as part of a wider weekly review, adding or editing descriptions and tags as necessary. The process of scanning my bookmarks is useful in its own right and only takes a few minutes.
Extra: using email to make the most of your important tags
I add a lot to my archive, both public and private. I add stuff that I think would be useful to other people, but other than a few other Pinboard users, no-one pays any attention my bookmarks. In addition, I usually want to save something to my archive without having to think about what else to do with it. So I’ve started experimenting with some email alerts based on particular tags.
At work my team often share useful tools that others might want to investigate. So, whenever I save something to Pinboard with the tag
tools, an email is sent from my personal email account to my work one with the link and a prompt ‘Worth sharing with the team?‘. The majority of my bookmarks are saved in the evenings, so when I get to work the next day I have a reminder so I can choose whether or not to share the link.
You could could skip this bit and share the URLs directly with other people, but I find the intermediary step is helpful for me to consider whether others would really find it useful.
Another use would be to remind you of links to blog about. If your blog is about software or design or writing or whatever, have ifttt send you an email whenever you bookmark a link with that tag. This avoids having to use a
toBlog tag or similar. (I prefer to use tags based on content only, rather than anything workflow-related.)
If you’re confident that you want to blog about every link with a particular tag, you could use ifttt to send the links and descriptions directly from Pinboard to a blogging system like Tumblr or WordPress.
I’m sure you can think of other uses based on this concept—let me know on Twitter.
Neither competitor can actually win. NES Tetris cannot be defeated, even in a so-called “max-out” game, in which the top possible score of 999,999 points is achieved. Every game ends with a player topping out and losing. Yet the best possible loss is exactly what these men seek, though each hope to win the Championship first.
I played my fair share of NES Tetris as a kid and I got nowhere near these guys. I know the strategy—build up a stack of tesselating shapes and clear four lines at a time (a Tetris) with the long shape, but maneuvering those blocks in the correct direction at high speeds was a task too far for my childhood brain.
The piece is notable also for it’s separate special features companion post, with related links and a Q&A.
The work was commissioned as part of a wider partnership with the BBC and London’s Southbank Centre. Next Tuesday sees the start of a three-part BBC Four documentary series, The Sound and the Fury, that looks at 20th century composers and the broader cultural impact of their work. The Southbank Centre is part-way through The Rest Is Noise, a year-long festival of weekend events, with concerts, films, interviews and talks by prominent critics, commentators and academics.
The common thread that binds all these projects together is Alex Ross’s 2007 book, also called The Rest Is Noise.
Research and writing for the connection tool was done by the OU’s Ben Winters, with support from colleagues Jonathan Rees and Naomi Barker.
The technical work and illustrations were handled by the excellent Stardotstar, who previously built some other connection tools for OpenLearn.
This was a really nice project to work on. It’s a subject I have an interest in, but not a great understanding of, so I spent the duration of the project reading about the composers and listening to their music. It was fascinating (but not a total surprise) to find out that some of this music comes from maths: Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis have used the Fibonacci series to structure pitches and rhythm, for example, while George Benjamin and Kaija Saariaho have undertaken mathematical analysis of sound spectra as the basis for their compositional decisions.
It’s also interesting to see the way someone like Hans Werner Henze is linked through a real spider’s web of connections to so many of the other composers through his background, styles, techniques and personal relationships. Whereas names that are more famous to me, like Leoš Janáček, have less in common with the other composers that are profiled.
Of course, this is just one lens through which to view these composers. Their work is so broad and varied that it’s difficult to summarise—there’s so much still to explore. Still, I think this is a great way to introduce yourself to a type of music that is generally considered to be quite aloof and difficult, and to find points where you can jump off and do more of your own digging around.
[Arcades are] a place for kids to be with other kids, teens to be with other teens, and early-stage adults to serve as the ambassador badasses in residence for the younger generation. It’s noisy, with all the kids yelling and the video games on permanent demo mode, beckoning you to waste just one more quarter. In earlier days (though well into the ‘90s), it’s sometimes smoky inside, and the cabinets bear the scars of many a forgotten cig left hanging off the edge while its owner tries one last time for a high score, inevitably ending in his or her death. The defining feature of a “real” arcade, however, is that there aren’t really any left.
Lots of interesting stuff in here. I had no idea that pinball was banned in most cities in the US between the 1940s and ’70s. I guess this means the Fonz really was a rebel.
I’d always thought that it was home video game systems that brought down the arcade business, but this piece reveals the rot had set in before they became popular. The golden age of arcades was really only a couple of years.
A lovely article that’s excellently presented and laid out, with an intro video, good typography, and panels of text that slide over nostalgic imagery.
Most of my internet ingestion is time-shifted. I think most people do this to a greater or lesser extent; here’s my current set-up for those who might not be doing it at all or need more inspiration.
The problem: I don’t have time to do anything with this right now
Do people ever ask you if you read a particular article, or watched a certain video, and you reply “I saw it, but didn’t have time”? This article might help you.
The general principle I will describe is to expose yourself to more things that you might find interesting, educational and/or inspiring, while at the same time freeing yourself from having to stop what you’re doing and deal with them the moment you see them.
Carve out anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours of free time and you’ll be able to enjoy these things without feeling the pressure of a boss peering over your shoulders while you are avoiding work, or eating up mobile data on the move.
The bedrock: RSS
This article assumes you are somewhat familiar with the concept of RSS feeds and use a feed reader. If you’re not, it’s a service that allows you to subscribe to websites (hereafter ‘feeds’) and let their updates (‘items’) come to you in one place, rather than you visiting a few dozen bookmarks every day.
The obvious choice is Google Reader (GR). I find the GR interface a little ugly and I prefer to use Reeder as an interface on both OS X and iOS. There are services other than GR available but they tend to involve setting up your own server, which is beyond the scope of this article.
I subscribe to a reasonably large number of feeds (177, says GR) but I don’t feel overwhelmed. I tend to eschew feeds that publish dozens of items a day—more than half of my feeds only update with a new item once a day, or indeed less often. For purposes of alleviating chronic OCD, I keep them organised in different folders: A/V, football, technology, etc. I also have a folder called ‘High’ for the important feeds that I want to read before anything else. (Tip: It’s actually called ‘1: High’ so it appears at the top of the folder list.)
Two or three times a day I take a few minutes to triage my unread articles. Both GR (the website) and Reeder (the OS X application) support keyboard shortcuts for flying through your unread feed items quickly and easily. I only use a few on a regular basis, but even using a couple of fingers makes things so much easier. I go through with my right index finger on
s every time I get to something that needs more than a few minutes’ attention. Moving down with
j marks each item as read, and you won’t see it again; you can optionally mark the entire contents of the current folder as read by pressing
shift-a (GR) or
When you get to the end you’re left with a list of things that you want to investigate further. I review this list of starred items most evenings. The longest anything will stay starred and therefore ‘unprocessed’ is a couple of days, if there is a backlog or if I am away. Going through this list, if I have time, I’ll read, watch or otherwise act on it there and then. If it takes longer, depending on the type of content, I’ll send it to different services to investigate when I have more time—more on these below.
When I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing with it, I unstar it until there are none left. You can navigate your starred list using
k, unstar with
s, and open items in your browser of choice with
v (GR) or
Below is a list of several services which could be new to you, or you might find different ways to use services you already use.
Saving text to read later: Instapaper
Instapaper is the grandaddy of read later services. Much imitated, it’s still my favourite. Initially an iOS app, there is also an Android version, although it is maintained by a different developer.
Instapaper strips the ads, menus, comments and other unneccessary cruft from a page and leaves you with just the nicely formatted text for you to read at your leisure. Everything you save to Instapaper is added to your reading list. You can use the bookmarklet, a button that sits in your web browser’s bookmarks bar, or from other apps that it integrates with, like Reeder. I tend to save non-time-sensitive articles to Instapaper in case I get a backlog of articles to read and don’t get it in time.
Once you’ve read an article in Instapaper you can send it to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc to share with your friends.
Instapaper has a ‘sister’ blog called The Feature, which links to a selection of longer articles on varying topics.
Video: YouTube, Vimeo and Pocket
Almost everyone I know uses YouTube but relatively few have (or use) YouTube accounts. You don’t need to be a video-maker to make use of an account; just by signing up you can use various features to bring things of interest right to you.
First, sign up for accounts with YouTube and Vimeo and subscribe to your friend’s uploads. Then, every time you see a video on YouTube or Vimeo that you like, and you’d like to see more by that account, subscribe to its upload channel.
Then grab the two RSS feeds (one for your YouTube subscriptions, the other for Vimeo) and add them to GR. Anything uploaded by your favourite video makers will then appear in your GR list.
Tip: Keep an eye on the ‘suggested feeds’ bit in YouTube: I’ve found a few interesting and informative channels in there.
Pocket started as ‘Read It Later’, an Instapaper clone. But while Instapaper is best for text, Pocket is better for videos. Sign up for a Pocket account and add the bookmarklet. Whenever an interesting video pops up in your GR, open it in your browser and click the ‘Save to Pocket’ bookmarklet. Even when the irritating pre-roll ad is playing. Reeder for iPhone and Mac (but strangely, not iPad) has a ‘send to Pocket’ button to make things even easier.
Tip: Using ifttt you can also use the ‘watch later’ buttons in YouTube and Vimeo to send things to Pocket.
Later, when you have time, open Pocket (they have free apps for many OSs/devices) and see your lovely list of interesting/educational/amusing/cat videos. Feel free to cancel your TV subscription and watch these instead. Again, you can share to social services after you’ve watched each video.
Another tip: add videos you like to your ‘favourites’ playlist within YouTube or hit the ‘like’ button on Vimeo. Then, whenever you’re with a group of people and you’re watching videos (I know you think this is dumb but I bet you’ve been in this position many times), you can whip out your list of favourites and off-handedly say, “Hey, don’t suppose you saw this”, and BLOW THEIR MINDS with your excellent taste in cat videos.
A few suggested channels to help you learn new stuff
- Crash Course: two concurrent topics (currently ecology and English literature) explained by brothers John and Hank Green. It’s fast-paced and engaging.
- PBS Idea Channel: Mike Rugnetta examines ‘the connections between pop culture, technology and art’. Contains lots of Arrested Development references.
- OU Learn: A plug for my department’s channel. Educational videos from The Open University.
Podcasts: Huffduffer and iTunes/Podcast.app
For a long time I was a huge podcast fan. I lived a 30 minute walk from work and often wanted something to listen to other than music on my journey. I subscribed to dozens of them in iTunes, which synced to my iPhone. After a couple of years I struggled to keep up with the many podcasts that sat there unlistened to. In the summer of 2012, I gave up. I deleted all my subscriptions in iTunes and simply stopped listening. I missed the good shows I was listening to, but not the self-imposed pressure of having to keep up.
I’ve reently started using Huffduffer instead, picking and choosing individual episodes to listen to. Sign up for an account and add the bookmarklet. Whenever you happen upon a link to a podcast episode that interests you, you can hit the bookmarklet.
You’ll be able to subscribe to this RSS feed in your podcatcher of choice (mine is the iOS Podcasts app). The obvious analogy is Instapaper for audio: you’ll have a list of things you want to listen to at a more appropriate time.
You can also follow people within Huffduffer by adding them to your ‘collective’. There aren’t a huge number of people that use Huffduffer, but once you start saving podcasts, you’ll see a list of people that saved similar things to you. Add them if they seem interesting. Your collective has its own RSS feed, so add this to GR. Then you’ll get probably-interesting podcast episodes in your GR list. For anything you want to listen to, open it in your web browser and hit the ‘Huffduff it’ bookmarklet.
These general principles will work for other audio services, like audioboo.
- Back To Work #95: I love Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin’s podcast, ostensibly about work and productivity and contraints and comics. This episode is the first in a series talking about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. If you’d like to apply more workflows to your wider life like the ones discussed here, it’s worth reading.
- Things I have Huffduffed
Albums you want to listen to: Spotify
This one is simple, but underused. If you subscribe to any music blogs in GR, chances are you’ll come across reviews of albums you want to listen to, but you don’t have 45+ minutes right there and then. Or, you might get a recommendation from a friend while you’re out and about. In each case, I simply search for it on Spotify and star it. If you use Rdio, add it to your queue.
Whenever I want to listen to something new, I have a list of 50 or so starred albums waiting for me.
The obvious way to time-shift Twitter is to use the favourite button. If you come across an interesting tweet that you don’t have time to act on (i.e. send to any of the services above, or reply to, or whatever), you can hit the favorite button. Later, review your favorites, do whatever you need to do, and unfavorite it until there are none left. Easy.
For what it’s worth, I don’t do this. I use favorites as ‘likes’ for things I, well, like, or find funny. If I see a tweet and don’t have time to do anything with it, I’ll email it to myself.
Which leads me on to email, and Gmail in particular. This is slightly different, in that you likely don’t treat email as ‘entertainment’ (unless you get several hundred emails a day, which I’d say is hilarious). In any case, the system of triaging GR works just as well in email, enabling you to separate the processes of reviewing your inbox and doing the work.
The setup I’ll describe is for using the web version of Gmail, but the theory can probably be applied to any email client. You likely already use a variant of it.
You can set up your view of Gmail into sections. If you hover over ‘Inbox’ in the left-hand list, you’ll see a button to reveal various inbox options. Choose ‘Priority Inbox’. This should give you the following sections, from top to bottom: Important and unread; All starred; Everything else. I can’t remember if it does this by default, so customise them if not.
All the email that Gmail thinks is important and that you haven’t opened goes at the top. The middle section is where the email to follow up will go. The bottom section is for email that is less important. You can teach Gmail what is important and what isn’t, but it has a pretty good stab at it anyway.
Triaging your email is no different to triaging GR and requires exactly two fingers. Start at the oldest unprocessed email and keep your right hand little finger on the
] key. If the email requires no action or follow up, press it. If it takes more than a couple of minutes to read or reply to, press
s to star it and move on with
]. If you can act on it quickly, then do so. By the time you’ve gone from oldest to newest, you’ll be at inbox zero, a place few people get to. Celebrate with your beverage of choice.
You’re left with starred email (hopefully not too many) that each need some action—whether the action is ‘read’, ‘do’, ‘defer’, or ‘delegate’ or whatever. Everything else is safely archived for you to search for later should you require. You can then go through your email without the burden of not knowing what else is hiding in your inbox, and without a too-high number of unread items looming at you.
Tip: If you’re into labelling your email, you can easily do that with just a couple of keystrokes as you go. In Gmail, press the
? key for a list of shortcuts.
Over to you
There you go. A 2,300 word article that you probably should have Instapapered in the first place. But also, a list of pretty easy methods that will enable you to:
- Expose yourself to a greater number of interesting things;
- Quickly triage and mark what is (or just looks like it could be) important/interesting;
- Do something with it at a more appropriate time.
Any similar ideas I’ve missed? Let me know on Twitter.
As I’ve been out of the loop for so long, I was interested to see what new videogame blogs and sites are out there. I haven’t found many that I like, but I’m forever grateful to whoever pointed me in the direction of this article on Super Mario Bros. 3 by Tim Rogers on Action Button Dot Net.
A 10,000 word essay about a 25-year-old game, it’s one for your Instapaper or lunch break. It’s written in the mildly offhandish way of someone who knows all there is to know about their chosen subject: in this case, every mushroom, every warp whistle, every Kuribo’s Shoe (clue: there’s only one, and it’s in world 5-3).
It might be my favourite article I’ve ever read about video games.
There’s so many passages I could quote, and they are all quite long, so I’ll try and exercise restraint. This is how it starts:
Super Mario Bros. 3 was born of a multi-tiered adolescence: it was our first, it was games’ only, it was Shigeru Miyamoto’s second. Videogames, born to be the entertainment industry’s stepchild, had nearly drowned under a flood of Atari 2600 E.T.: The Game cartridges; rescued by a kind-hearted and inexplicably Japanese farmer just around the river bend, they overcame the amnesia that comes when the brain is deprived of oxygen in the best possible way: by never remembering the past. Urban legend tells us that Shigeru Miyamoto was introduced to Nintendo because his father knew the then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi. Urban legend continues to tell us that Miyamoto walked into the interview with some tentative sketches of a toy-like phone. He was told, yeah, that’s nice, though we want you to make a videogame. Shigeru Miyamoto went on to prove himself the most boring kind of genius: the kind who can walk face-first into anything and excel at it. There can be no higher compliment for a creator of world-class entertainment, really.
Rogers gives a potted history of Nintendo and Miyamoto, from Donkey Kong through the Mario and Zelda series, taking in game physics, level design, music and–repeatedly–world maps, a clear bugbear. Rogers is unerringly precise when it comes to SMB3’s influence:
Super Mario Bros. 3 is Miyamoto and friends adapting on the spot to a subtly warped world. At the time of its release–and even today, if you ask the right person–it was the biggest and most generous videogame that had ever existed, impenetrable to strategy guides, as short or as long as you wanted it to be, imaginative, bright, bold, flowing, absolutely effortlessly natural at all times. The following years would see dozens of money-sign-irised game developers attempt to slap together something reminiscient of Super Mario Bros. 3; they’d write their design documents like they were filling out a checklist, expecting lightning to strike as many times as they wanted. These people were burglars walking right into a house where the alarm was already ringing, and getting their faces smashed into the pavement; they will spend the rest of their lives being asked where the fucking diamonds are, and they will never be able to answer, because they don’t know.
Simply put, the morbid success of Super Mario Bros. 3 changed videogames for the bizarre, the way any and all success by Nintendo has ever changed videogames. There was so much love, attention to detail, generosity, and artistic conscience […] evident in Super Mario Bros. 3, and it’s all so ruthlessly accessible and playable and joyful, thanks to those amazing physics, that it’s near-unbearably heavy to think about how great it is, much less try to write about.
As you’ll have gathered, the article is as much a love letter as it is a retrospective review, and so it ends:
Super Mario Bros. 3 will remain my treasure, my precious hobby, my stay-at-home vacation, my one-man conversation, my lifelong birthday party.
Brilliant. I could hear the soundtrack in my head as I read it.
- Master of Play, Nick Paumgarten’s 2010 profile of Shigeru Miyamoto from The New Yorker.
- The World in a Chain Chomp, Kyle Orland’s shorter piece on SMB3.
- Saving Zelda, Tevis Thompson’s plea for the Zelda series to return to what he sees as its heyday.
- Game Over), David Sheff’s excellent 1993 book on the history and fortunes of Nintendo.
Maciej Cegłowski writes about the dangers of jellyfish and crocodiles in north-eastern Australia:
The box jellyfish is one of those Australian animals that are venomous beyond reason. It is a transparent creature about as big and as clever as a handbag, and although it subsists entirely on small fish and crustaceans, its three-meter long tentacles contain enough venom to kill an orchestra.
The article is fascinating and rather scary:
Visitors’ guides stress the importance of “crocodile safety” in the same gentle language they use to warn against sunstroke. The universal theme in crocodile attack stories is that of complete surprise, the victim usually disappearing under the water before they can get out one good yell. The crocodile prefers to store its supper to age a little bit before eating, so the aftermath of many crocodile attacks is a grisly hunt for both the reptile and the cached body.
In a better world, box jellyfish and crocodile would be mortal enemies, battling each other out in the shallows like the kraken and the whale, but as best I can tell the creatures coexist in the tidal zone in perfect friendship and harmony, possibly buying each other beers after a hard day’s work of making it impossible for a hot and weary traveler to put so much as a toe in the water.
Maciej also runs Pinboard, the site I use to save links like these. He also recently announced his Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud, a hilarious attempt to help prospective start-ups. Each of the six winners gets $37, a sum Maciej notes are the only costs involved in the startup and operation of an online project. The winners get publicity, the biggest obstacle to success.
At once a piece of satire yet a sincere offering, it’s especially amusing for the various ways he describes it: for people with no concept of humour, in words of one syllable, and in PR-speak.
Matt Strassler looks at our fascination with numbers and dates/times, with a particular focus on the recent run of twelves. Why do we use particular lengths for our minutes, hours, years? How would time be if it was base-10? Why twelves? Are we really in 2012?
See also more on dozenalists, the people who are very obsessed with base-12.
In the UK, Knightmare was a popular children’s TV series in the 1980s and ’90s:
On paper, Knightmare is a terrible idea. It’s a kids’ TV show that simulates the experience of playing a computer game, as if kids wouldn’t rather just play a computer game. The bulk of each episode is comprised of three children staring at a television screen and shouting at a fourth kid, who is wearing a giant hat. They are constantly interrupted by a man dressed as a camp Hobbit. It’s a game show, but winning is almost impossible, and the penalty for failure is death.
The videos in the article are an uncomfortable reminder of how it really looked, outside our memories. Very funny, very comprehensive, and very nostalgic for anyone about my age.
Josh Weinstein, formerly of The Simpsons, gives his recollections of The Beatles classic animation. Supremely interesting in and of itself, the film’s influence on modern animation is unarguable; you should also read the linked article about how the voice talent was anything but the Fab Four, and what happened to them:
Director George Dunning had overheard [Peter] Batten talking in a Liverpudlian accent in a London pub. He cast him on the spot as George Harrison, although Batten had never acted before. Towards the end of the production, Batten was in bed with one of the young women on the production team when the military police burst in and arrested him for desertion. He has not been seen or heard of since.
Second appearance for Matt Strassler’s blog Of Particular Significance, in which he discusses the progress of science, and how theories are accepted or dismissed. You don’t need to be a physics expert to read this, but you’ll need to pay close attention and not get hung up on the details of the likes of supersymmetry, and try to pay attention to the broader themes.
This is a difficult video to watch. It’s about trying to make sense of tragedy. Anthony Griffith is a comedian and actor and this is his appearance on The Moth, a sort-of arena for storytelling. I’m not a parent, and if I was, I don’t think I’d be able to watch this.
Mike Harrison writes sci-fi books, none of which I’ve read, but after the past few months reading his blog, I really want to. Every day you get a paragraph, two if you’re lucky, about something. Some are taken from his books, and attributed thusly; maybe they all are, I don’t know. But they’re so brilliantly written: so easy to visualise, so tricky to decipher if he’s talking literally or metaphorically.
Call us control freaks, but we built this brand and we “feel strongly” about shaping its direction ourselves. One logo on our login page is enough. Who the hell wants their app to look like it was designed by NASCAR?
I dislike the proliferation of social sharing and login buttons on websites.
Sure, the login buttons help users sign up for your service quickly and easily. But the user has to remember which service they signed in with, and they look ugly. By their nature, they tend to be brightly coloured and eye-catching—the eye is drawn to them rather than what the website or service is or does. I’d rather people used this space to give me more reasons why I should sign up in the first place. If I’m eager, I’ll find a way to sign up.
The sharing buttons are more irritating to me. Their intention is obvious: get more people to the site who wouldn’t otherwise have noticed it. My hugely anecdotal experience is that their primary use is for a small and relatively unimportant minority of users: those who don’t know how to copy and paste. These people aren’t likely to be socially ‘influential’, for want of a better phrase—is it going to be a huge boon for your site if Joe Bloggs, who tweets once every three months and has only a handful of equally unengaged followers, shares a link to an article?
This is vital screen space. Wouldn’t it be better to remove these buttons (or consolidate them under a single ‘share’ button, which pops up the myriad social services) and give more room to services that help users find reasons to stick around? Like links to other content in the same category (hand-picked, not just autogenerated WordPress bullshit), or perhaps more by the same author? Even if you don’t replace them with anything, you just made your content stand out that tiny bit more.
The site I work on has a curious policy of putting the sharing buttons before the article, as a way of suggesting that what you’re about to read is worthy of sharing. Look—all these other people have already done it. I certainly don’t like this any better. We’re giving people decisions to make and opportunities to do something other than reading the article, and I hope we change it.
Read the update after the article too: there are some good counter-points made by commenters.
What kind of language do you use on twitter? Are you unconsciously using homophobic words? Did you even know that #NoHomo was a real hashtag on Twitter?
Look at all those morons that throw the word ‘faggot’ around on Twitter.
Does anyone really think breaking up articles into several pages is a good idea? No, they don’t.
For much of the late-twentieth century, you might have assumed that musicians with a top-twenty sales week and a Radio City show—say, the U2 tour in 1984, after The Unforgettable Fire—made at least as much as their dentists. Those days are long and irretrievably gone, but some of the mental habits linger. “People probably have an inflated idea of what we make,” says Droste. “Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records. But they’ll go to giant shows.” Grizzly Bear tours for the bulk of its income, like most bands; licensing a song might provide each member with “a nice little ‘Yay, I don’t have to pay rent for two months.’ ” They don’t all have health insurance.
The Grizzly Bear album is terrific, so you should buy it and see them live.
Related: Corin Tucker, formerly of the amazing Sleater-Kinney and now the Corin Tucker Band, has a day job.
My pal Richard has an easier way to cope with the onslaught of tech-related news. He reads it for you, and selects the most important stuff.
This article is interesting on its own terms—if you didn’t know, Kelsey Grammar is nothing like his character Frasier, and Shelley Long was kinda hard work—but more interesting to me is the suggestion that Cheers, for so long the pinnacle of TV comedy, doesn’t get enough respect. The last episode aired twenty years ago: enough for a generation to grow up and not know what it is.
There is no seal to break, either in a literal or metaphorical sense. Urine production isn’t regulated by how long you wait or how often you go.
Learn about ADH and impress your friends!
The old-fashioned is at once “the manliest cocktail order” and “something your grandmother drank,” and between those poles we discover countless simple delights, evolutionary wonders, and captivating abominations. Because of its core simplicity and its elasticity—because it is primordial booze—ideas about the old-fashioned exist in a realm where gastronomical notions shade into ideological tenets. It is a platform for a bar to make a statement, a surface on which every bartender leaves a thumbprint, and a solution that many a picky drinker dips his litmus paper in. You are a free man. Drink your drink as you please. But know that your interpretation of the recipe says something serious about your philosophy of fun.
What more needs to be said and read about this drink? Plenty more, it seems.
Shall I draw you a picture
At the outset, I had very little awareness or understanding of diagrams, at least in a technical or academic sense. Sure, I’d heard of and had occasionally used mindmaps, but wasn’t sure what else there was.
A quick telephone call with OU academic Simon Bell was enough to both open my eyes and scare the living bejesus out of me. Here was a seemingly sane man talking to me about Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the role of rich pictures in historical human storytelling, the Book of the Dead, modern hieroglyphs, and fighting a fight against the ‘gravity of dullness that permeates diagramming and systems thinking in academia’. All in the same sentence.
I had to work with him to make something about diagrams that the general public would be interested in and want to learn from. He wanted something that would make people want to “draw the picture or die”. At this stage, I wasn’t not totally sure what I was in for. Weren’t we supposed to be talking about Tony Buzan?
What the hell is a systems map anyway
Fast-forward a few weeks and I’d had further chats with Simon and his colleagues and I’d seen examples of other, different diagram types. A rich picture about flood management looked bonkers: seemingly childlike in its simplicity, somehow this collection of stick men, doodles, symbols and landscapes helped me understand the set of problems faced by a variety of people in a single situation. Systems diagrams were a sort of huge Venn showing what was part of what (and, importantly, what wasn’t). Multiple cause diagrams helped you see how different factors produced different effects. It was quite overwhelming, but I could see there was something there that could be useful and interesting to people other than university professors.
We quickly settled on video as the ideal medium to demonstrate how these diagrams could be created and why they should be used. Finding a narrative to hang it together was more of a challenge—I was working with a group of academics that used these diagrams to model complex environmental problems. Would this hold the interest of people brand new to diagramming, let along environmental decision making?
The final product
We took the view that people could use different diagram types depending on the amount of understanding they have of a situation. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I quickly learned that it can be a useful approach. For example, when your understanding is a mess, and there are multiple viewpoints to consider, a rich picture can help get everything down in one place. A spray diagram helps organise and group these components. As understanding grows, systems maps and influence diagrams help define the boundaries and relationships within the context. Once this understanding is in place, multiple cause diagrams help you form causal chains that can explain why a particular event has happened.
Simon picked a suitable topic and we filmed him drawing these diagrams in sequence, beginning with a mess of understanding and, while not arriving at an answer per se, ending up with a thorough understanding of the main context and its associated factors. A complex problem now had two or three key areas that needed focused attention to bring about resolution.
The final product is a video player that takes one long YouTube video and breaks it into 7 smaller pieces. We’ve got two introductory animations, one that explains why we use diagrams in the first place, and one that sets the scene for Simon’s chosen topic. Then, for each of the 5 diagram types, there are speeded-up videos of Simon drawing each diagram with a voiceover (recorded later) where he explains what he’s doing. There is an extra example of each diagram type at the end of the 5 videos, explained by Simon’s colleague Kevin Collins.
This is followed up by a quick quiz—the viewer is given 5 different scenarios (including supermarkets, game developers, and a hospital A&E department), each with a different problem facing them. He or she is then asked to suggest a suitable diagram to help approach the problem.
Here’s the final thing. Please don’t be one of the people who wonders how Simon learned to write backwards so well.
Yes, but is it any good
This was a tough project. We took a subject that the Open University teaches at postgraduate level, and tried to make it accessible for the interested layperson. I think we succeeded. I’d have liked to develop the quiz functionality into something slightly richer and more personal, possibly allowing the user to try different diagramming types out. But time and money only go so far.
Still, I’m happy, and the videos have been popular so far. I’ve used a couple of the techniques when faced with complicated problems at work, and I hope that others get something useful out of it.