Monthly Archives: May 2007

Cutting back on e-mail checking

I’m something of a pioneer of on-the-go email checking. Maybe pioneer is too strong. Let’s say “early adopter”. I used to check my email using my WAP-enabled phone when I was on vacation. It was painful, but it worked. Eventually I graduated to a Treo 600 with Chattermail for always-on IMAP-push email notification (equivalent to Crackberry service, basically). This was before everyone and their cousin had a Crackberry.

On the Treo, when I get new mail, the little green light starts blinking rapidly instead of its normal once every two seconds or so. Over the last 2.5 years or so I’ve apparently developed a habit of glancing down at my belt holster, looking for that rapid flashing to see if I have mail.

Lately, people have been talking about the benefits of shutting down the auto-updates and instantaneous reminders. It seems like all the cool kids are doing it.

I’ve started trying it. The email on the phone is generally turned off. If I’ve been away for a while or I have time to kill (waiting in a long line or whatever), I’ll fire it up. At work I check email as a break after I’ve finished a major goal or a big block of little goals, and after lunch. I’m keeping it down to once or twice in the evenings at home. So far, it’s been mostly okay.

I find myself doing odd things. I look down at my phone, even though I know the email program is off. I bounce my mouse down to the dock in Mac OS X, looking for the little red circle with a number on the Mail icon to tell me I have mail. Occasionally I actually open the Mail app without that being my original intention. Hopefully after a week or two I’ll be able to break those habits.

How often do you check your email?

100-Word Rants by Dave

Dave (who shall remain lastnameless) is the father of a friend and co-worker of mine. He’s a tall, friendly guy with a resonating voice who, in minutes, can have everyone at a party on their knees laughing so hard they can’t breathe.

Imagine my joy at being told some time ago that he now has a blog.

Dave writes a lot of ad copy. As he puts it in his description on blogger,

Decades of writing prose to fit the oddly-shaped blotches of greeking with which designers decorate their pages have left me with the freakish ability to write to an exact word count. Hence, the one hundred word rant. A fast-talking radio guy could read one of these aloud in thirty seconds. If you can read without moving your lips, you can do it quicker.

While not quite as side-splitting as his more prolonged in-person rants and stories, the rants so far have at the very least been amusing. It’s worth checking out for a once-a-week compressed look at a wide range of subjects. Go subscribe now:

100 word rant

“Live foods” woo at the Yabba Pot

There’s an organic vegan foods place right down the street from me. They have tasty and healthy foods, and the prices aren’t bad. On my first visit there, actually at another location due to renovations, I read some woo on the menu about the enzymes in raw foods and their healing effects, as well as the harm caused by chemicals produced when foods are cooked. I could kind of see a point there, but it’s a weak point.

The second time I visited, then nice and close to my apartment in their normal location, I was waiting at the register, staring over the woman working there’s shoulder, where I found a sign with big letters exclaiming that “Doctors kill people” or some other such nonsense. I should go take a picture. It then quoted very selectively an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (commonly JAMA) on death from iatrogenic causes (i.e. death caused by a health care provider’s mistake(s)). Combined with other BS written in the menu and various places throughout the store, the conclusion the customer should make is clear: Doctors are wringing you for money and sometimes killing you and you fall right into their trap when you don’t eat raw (live) foods.

Imagine how I felt as I handed over my School of Medicine (I’m a grad student in the SoM, not a medical student) ID for my student discount.

To you, dear readers, the folly of all of this should be self-evident. Firstly, how many people would even be alive to die of iatrogenic causes without modern medicine? That’s not to say that mistakes aren’t made, or to excuse them, but indicting the whole of modern medicine and abandoning it to imbibe solely in raw foods is lunacy. Secondly, who published the article? The JAMA! It’s a self-policing article! If anything that should inspire more confidence in modern medicine, not less.

Despite my love of good vegetarian food, that’s not a place that gets my money anymore.

“Skim” – A program for scientific reading

When I read scientific papers, I mark them up a lot. I underline useful snippets of information, circle reference numbers to check later, write questions in the margins, and so on. Until recently, I was doing this on paper, and then transcribing my notes manually to a FreeMind outline. However, since discovering that I can do all of this and more in Adobe Acrobat, using the built-in OCR scanner to produce text even from scanned PDFs, I’ve gone digital.

Acrobat is pretty expensive, though, especially if you aren’t an official student or faculty at a university with an educational discount. I prefer to avoid lock-in to commercial software, especially expensive commercial software when possible. Anyhow, PDF is now an open standard, with good native support under OS X. I had wished for a long time for a good open-source PDF editor that I could use to mark up scientific documents. Skim is the answer to my wishes.

Skim is designed for scientific reading, and marks up PDFs reasonably well. It is free and open-source software (FOSS if you like acronyms), and comes in Universal Binary and source code flavors. Lifehacker did a brief review of it, as have others if you search the interwebs. I tried it, but ran into one rather frustrating problem. It doesn’t restrict its highlighting to a single column of text. Thus, if you have two-column text, as is found in most journals, it will select across both, totally ruining your ability to highlight a sentence. I don’t know how much of a showstopper this is for others, but for now I’m still using Acrobat. However, since it’s open-source and I think it has a potentially wide audience, there’s a good chance a fix will be made in the future.

For most people who want to add notes to PDFs on a mac, it should work splendidly.