Monthly Archives: November 2007

Randy Pausch on Time Management

Randy Pausch is a 47 year old Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also dying of cancer. In September, he participated in a CMU tradition known as the “Last Lecture.” Apparently this is a long running (though renamed to something less memorable – Journeys – just before Dr. Pausch gave his) lecture series in which professors give a lecture as if it were to be their last. The difference with Dr. Pausch being, of course, that it would be among his last. (He was given an expectation of 3-6 months of good health left.)

A video of Dr. Pausch’s Last Lecture is available on Google Video and has been watched over 1 million times. I watched it when it was in heavy rotation a month or so ago. It is entertaining and inspiring. I recommend it.

Anyway, since our local paper also covers the Charlottesville area, there was an article in the paper about the lecture that Dr. Pausch gave at UVA this week. (Our local paper is The Roanoke Times – I won’t bother linking as their online edition is miserably, miserably lame.) Dr. Pausch was previously on the faculty at UVA, and his lecture is on Time Management. It is full of wonderful practical advice, distilling the best of what you would learn if you read a half dozen good time management books, with a few additional quirks for good measure. And, it, too, is available on this here series of tubes. Highly, highly recommended.

Dear Bicyclist…

To the bicyclist that I almost killed on my way home this afternoon:

  1. You should study your hand signals again.  Your left hand pointing down toward the ground with the palm to the rear indicates that you are braking.  It does not indicate that you are about to make a left turn from the right hand lane.  It still doesn’t indicate a left turn when you do it again emphatically with a rude gesture after I slam on my brakes and squeal my tires to keep from killing you and then honk my horn in exasperation.
  2. Actually, making a left turn from the right lane is illegal under all circumstances, no matter what you are driving.  And it is particularly ill advised when you do it suddenly in front of a car going 30 mph when you are on a bicycle moving at about 10 mph.  I occasionally ride my bike to work — not as often as I should — so I’m not impervious to to the concerns of bicyclists on the roadways.  That’s why I gave you an entire, car-sized lane all to yourself.
  3. You should consider wearing a helmet.  Because while you are unlikely to fare well going mano-a-mano with my Honda Civic, the next vehicle you tango with is likely to have higher mass and be considerably less nimble.

Thanks for reading.  Happy cycling.

Updates…

I have been working on some longer posts, but I haven’t had time to finish them.  So, things have been quiet around here.  Two quick updates, though.

First, I said recently that I was thinking about getting rid of my SLR.  After letting that thought stew for a few days, I decided against it pretty firmly.  Photography is one of those hobbies that I’d like to keep developing for the long term.  So, taking a step backward with my gear doesn’t make much sense.  Instead, I’m going to try to get a new prime lens and a flash for Christmas.  And I’m in the market for a bag that will carry both a laptop and an SLR camera…  (I actually looked for one of these a few months ago and found a few options.  I need to look some more.)

Second, the new to-do-list system discussed here is working great so far.  Better than my expectations, even.  Unlike every other thing that I’ve tried, I actually look at this to do list many, many times a day.  As a result, I spend much more time making sandwiches and much less time stacking orders, as Merlin Mann would say.  Even when I don’t feel like taking on a big ugly task, I find myself flipping through the list looking for easy tasks that I can knock out.  And I find that the draw of finishing the top page so that I can remove it is really compelling and procrastination defeating.  I’ll have to live with this for a few more months – and get the rest of my stalled “system” running again – before I reach a final conclusion, but right now it is working really well for me.  The best ideas are often the simplest ones.

Waterboarding Is Torture

This makes me physically ill. And it is from a very reliable source. You should read it. But if you can’t (and believe me I understand) here are the most important facts:

  • The media repeatedly describes waterboarding as “simulated drowning.” This is utter bullshit. Waterboarding is controlled drowning. There is nothing “simulated” about it. Your lungs begin to fill with water. The only difference with uncontrolled drowning is that they stop before you actually die. This meets almost every definition of torture on the planet.
  • Torture does not work. It does not produce reliable intelligence. People who are tortured will say whatever you want them to say to make the torture stop.
  • The use of this technique by Americans will inevitably lead to its use on Americans. So, even if you refuse to believe the straightforward fact that torture does not yield reliable intelligence, perhaps you are still human enough to wish to spare future American soldiers?

I cannot believe that we are having this debate. I cannot believe that our media is so spineless as to let the American people believe that waterboarding is no more uncomfortable than having water poured on your face. That we would subject other human beings to this is an anathema to everything that American stands for. Where are the people of good will who can put an end to this?

Camera Thoughts…

I’m thinking about selling my Canon Digital Rebel and buying a Canon PowerShot G9.  This pains me because I like having an SLR.  But I think the advantages of this particular point-and-shoot may outweigh the disadvantages.

The PowerShot G9 is held by some to be the best point-and-shoot camera on the market.  (And, of course, the obligatory Digital Photography Review of the G9 is also very good.) I was originally attracted to the SLR because “real photographers” use SLR cameras, and they are often required by photography classes and whatnot.  But the PowerShot seems to have most of what I want, while overcoming the main downside of the SLR:

  • Full manual mode.  This is what most basic photography classes teach you to use, anyway.  Even they are secondary, though, to the main factors the photographer controls: Where to point the camera and when to release the shutter.  One downside of point-and-shoots tends to be shutter lag; it appears that it isn’t too bad on the G9, though, particularly if you are looking through the viewfinder rather than at the LCD.
  • RAW format.  The ability to white balance after-the-fact comes in very handy if you like to shoot indoors without the flash, as I do.  You can also sometimes do mild exposure correction and the like.
  • Good high ISO performance.  Also important for shooting indoors when flash is undesirable or inappropriate.  Unfortunately, most point-and-shoots, including the G9, stink at this due to their tiny sensors.  The only point-and-shoot acclaimed in this area is the Fujifilm FinePix F30 series, which lacks some other important (to me) features.  This image quality issue is one of the few things really causing me to hesitate on this decision.
  • Off-camera-flash ready.  I haven’t started using this yet, but my favorite photog site these days is Strobist, which is all about (literally) using off-camera flash.  (In contrast to on-camera flash, which makes your pictures look flat and generic, off-camera flashes can be used as a cheap substitute for studio lights and the like, achieving all kinds of interesting effects.)
  • Easy to carry.  This is the major, major downside to the SLR, as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve thought about doing a photo-a-day sortof thing, like some people do on their blogs, but there is no way I’m ever going to carry my SLR around every day.  It’s just too bulky, unless you want to look like either a professional photographer or a serious photo geek everywhere you go.  I only carry it on trips and to special events, for the most part.  I think whatever I might miss in photographic quality by not carrying an SLR would be more than compensated by being able to take more photographs.*
  • No extra lenses.  In theory, this is the major downside to a point-and-shoot.  After all, one of the great things about having an SLR is the flexibility of shooting with so many different lenses, right?  Well, right, except that I don’t have any lenses other than the kit lenses (read: crappy zoom lenses) that came on my SLR cameras.  (I had a Canon Rebel G before I got the Digital Rebel.  It has a slightly different zoom lens, which can also be used with the Digital Rebel.)  I always think about buying more lenses but, see, good lenses are expensive.  (Yes, there are a couple of exceptions that I should have taken advantage of by now.  But for the most part, fast glass requires lots of cash.)  I really like photography.  It’s a hobby I’d like to do more of.  But as long as we’re raising kids, I’m not likely to be spending much money on good lenses.  After reading Strobist for a while, I’d rather invest the money that I do have to spend on photography on a few inexpensive external flashes and accessories, which actually seem to open up quite a few more avenues for creativity and exploration, anyway.

  • Here are the first two “secrets” to becoming a better photographer: Take lots and lots and lots of pictures.  Keep the good ones; throw away the bad ones.  Do these two things, and people will think you are a brilliant photographer.  I am not kidding.  Really.

Ever watch a professional photographer at work?  They shoot off dozens and dozens of pictures.  How many of those do you think ever see the light of day?  Not many.  Is their average shot better than your average shot?  You betcha.  But is their average shot better than the best picture you can get if you squeeze off 100?  Not likely.

One of the iconic pictures of September 11, showing firefighters’ faces wearing all the weariness and agony of that day, was shot by an photographer covering the Pentagon who took thousands of pictures that day.  It was one of the very last ones he took, as he was returning to his car.  Most ameteurs would have put away their cameras far too soon.  (Wish I could find a reference to where I read that and/or a link to that photograph…)

Gaaah!

I haven’t installed any web browser other than Safari since my OS upgrade.  I had forgotten, though, that when I post in WordPress from Safari, all of my paragraph breaks disappear.  I’m too tired to install Camino or Firefox and clean up the previous two posts tonight, though.  Guess I’ll put those things on my To Do list…