Archive for January, 2010

“Relevant After” for todo lists

January 26, 2010
Andrew and I used FogBugz to organize ourselves leading up to our YC interviews last fall. I just filled out a customer survey; here’s what I told them for “Missing Features”:
I’ve wanted this from every project-management system I’ve ever used: A “Relevant after” field that hides items from all default views until a trigger (e.g. date, or other task completion).
This would let me brainstorm todo items without being annoyed by clutter that isn’t relevant yet.
For example, I handed in a draft of my Master’s thesis on Monday afternoon. My second reader told me, “OK, I’ll read it Wednesday morning and get back to you.”
As of that moment, I have a new todo item: Either deal with her feedback or remind her that I need her feedback. This new task is not relevant to me until Wednesday except when planning other tasks to be done that day.  And I know how you feel about software that gets in your face with irrelevant shit.

English is hard

January 13, 2010

I asked my sister and father for help on a point of grammar. Each found a separate flaw in my example sentence.

Where does an adult go to improve his writing?

The Roles of Journals

January 8, 2010

Academic journal publications are the lifeblood of science: The medium for serious communication, the marker of career success, and moderator of scientific integrity. Modern technology is disrupting the funding model that has supported the system for hundreds of years. As things change, it becomes worthwhile to consider the various functions journals perform. Only with new understanding can we identify the pieces we shall need to rebuild if the established structures cannot adapt.

Before the Internet, printing and distributing physical documents was sufficiently complicated to warrant specialized organizations. It was natural to capture the value of this service by asking readers to pay. These subscriptions effectively subsidized other journal services.

Now, printing and distribution are cheap commodities. For pennies, a scientist can make work available to every interested reader. This undermines the subscription business model, and it isn’t clear how existing journals can measure or capture the value of their other jobs.

To stave off collapse, journal publishers now fight bitterly to keep their publications closed to all but paying subscribers. This pits them directly against their contributing authors, who favour openness on principle and on the pragmatic realization that open publication means more citation.

Let us explore some of the unfunded roles journals play:

Editing: Journal-funded editors raise the basic quality of writing in scientific publication, filtering out spelling and grammatical errors.

Coordination of peer review: Journals arrange for qualified scientists to review others’ work, guaranteeing authors a source of feedback that is sometimes even useful.

Formalization of discussion: Journals provide a generally-accepted forum for comments on a paper and a system of retraction for severe flaws discovered after publication.

Reputation assignment: Within every scientific subfield, there is a generally-understood status hierarchy of journals. Publication in prestigious journals bestows honor on a paper, its authors, and their institutions. In some fields and journals, the order of the author list tweaks this assignment of credit.

Some fields formalize this system into a mathematical formula in an attempt to fairly measure the impact of a scientist, institution or journal.

Attention assignment: Journals regularly aggregate related content in a field, focusing the attention of interested parties. The structure of journal articles permits sophisticated searches of the literature.

Durability assurance: Journal publications are archived reliably, making it rare for a piece of work to become completely inaccessible.

Canonical citation: The scientific community generally agrees on how to cite articles from journals. A journal article citation is sufficient for a reader to uniquely identify the work being discussed.

Any serious effort to replace or fix journals will need to consider more than just the obvious, formal processes. The unwritten social roles and subtle benefits must not be overlooked.

The New Airport Security

January 6, 2010

Rory and Aran fly to San Jose.

We pack checked baggage only, knowing we won’t be allowed to carry much on.

The airport is empty. Flying on Wednesday afternoon has its perks.

It takes a while to figure out that flying NorthWest Airlines means checking in at Delta.

We breeze through checkin. I had a cheerful, friendly agent who helped me through checkin and waived my checked baggage fee of $20. Rory was not so lucky, with a surly woman who gave no such favour.

Customs had a couple agents working and no line. My agent found out I was interviewing at Yahoo!, so he asked me why they should hire me instead of some other candidate.

The usual X-Ray screening station was overstaffed. We didn’t wait, and the agents with nothing to do were joking around.

Beyond usual security, there was a new station staffed with a dozen RCMP men and women. They were doing full pat-down searches and inspection of electronics. They were way more cheerful than the usual security types. I guess they still had their souls. We cracked jokes about my trying to earn a pat down from one of the cute female officers. (No luck.)

Total time from entering the airport to reaching my gate: Less than one hour.