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productivity – The Salt-Box http://www.jbj.wordherders.net "A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box."--Uncle Pumblechook Thu, 09 May 2013 17:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Working the bureaucracy http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/12/working-the-bureaucracy/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/12/working-the-bureaucracy/#respond Mon, 13 Jul 2009 04:22:22 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/12/working-the-bureaucracy/ Continue reading ]]> Seth Godin (via BoingBoing) offers some cogent reflections on “the art and skill of working with bureaucrats,” pointing out that the reason you tend to see the same companies in all the airports is that they’ve optimized for tolerating municipal bureaucracies.

The applicability to working at a public university is left as an exercise for the reader.  There’s the Platonic Idea of a university as it exists in your head, and there’s the university where you actually teach.  A gap probably exists between these two models.  You can:

  1. Complain bitterly about about the gap, or
  2. Figure out how to make the real university work for you.  It won’t be perfect, but it will sometimes be pretty cool.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to reduce the gap, of course.  But a complex thing like a university will never be what *you* want it to be.

If you walk through door #1, congratulations, you remain pure and intellectually awesome.  Of course, your colleagues probably hate you, and at least some opportunities, for yourself, for your students, and for your campus, will be sacrificed on the altar of your purity.

Door #2 requires a bit more tolerance for the fact that things won’t go “right.”  You won’t get what you wanted, exactly.  But you can still do things that are cooler than you might expect, and you can build on those experiences to do still more cool things.

Arguably related: this CNN.com/Oprah.com article on surviving difficult coworkers.

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On not noticing http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/05/10/on-not-noticing/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/05/10/on-not-noticing/#respond Mon, 11 May 2009 01:37:14 +0000 attentionattention managementconsciousnessthe self http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/05/10/on-not-noticing/ Continue reading ]]> Thinking about the infinite distractions of contemporary affluent life, Laura Miller glosses Winifred Gallagher’s Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, thus:

Your very self, “stored in your memory,” is the product of what you pay attention to, since you can’t remember what you never noticed to begin with.  [Via Andrew Sullivan.]

Much depends here on what “remember” and “notice” mean, I guess, but this doesn’t sound right.  There’s a certain sense in which it’s clearly true: some kinds of intellectual content, for example, you probably need to become aware of before you can remember them.  (This is why, in class or in a paper, it helps to make something a problem.)

But the experience of sustained intimacy, whether based on families, love relationships, or friendships, suggests a host of exceptions: The experience of not being aware of something until it’s gone is proverbial.  There’s also a different kind of memory: The lived memory of habit and attitude, built up reflexively, and sometimes non-consciously (avoiding unconscious here to forestall a distracting argument about Freud, who’s probably relevant here).  When you first live with another person, and they ask “how come you always X?”–the reason is a kind of memory.  Sometimes it’s explicit–“In my house, we *always* puree the cat for dinner, never breakfast.”  But lots of times it just reflects the built-up years of making largely unreflective inferences about people, based on hints and guesses.

We can also borrow Wordsworth: “the best portion of a good man’s life” are his “little, nameless, unremembered acts / Of kindness and of love.”

In the main, I agree with Miller (and Gallagher, as presented by her): attention matters.  After all, Wordsworth recoils from the busy city streets into communion with nature.  But I’m not as sanguine about collapsing selfhood into “things we’ve consciously noticed.”

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My current tech crush: Dropbox http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/24/my-current-tech-crush-dropbox/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/24/my-current-tech-crush-dropbox/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2009 03:51:43 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/24/my-current-tech-crush-dropbox/ Continue reading ]]> Anyone who regularly accesses multiple computers knows how hard it is to keep track of files.  That’s why Zotero now offers online syncing & backup, why MobileMe offers Back To My Mac, why flash drives are so popular, and why, in general, cloud computing has become such a buzzword.

I do ok managing my research files, but managing teaching and committee-related files has been an increasing problem, especially after I moved to electronic-only paper submission a couple of years ago.  I’d save student papers to a folder on one computer and start grading.  I probably could’ve put the folder on a flash drive, but my experience with flash drives is spotty–usually I fail to have it at the right place.  Typically what I do is zip the folder when I’m done on a particular computer and then e-mail the file to myself.  During a semester, I’ll accumulate scores of folders and zips with helpful names like Paper 1 grading, Paper 1 grading 1, Paper 1 grading 2, etc.  And sometimes, as I start grading, I’ll realize I need to tweak a rubric.  Great–which folder, on which computer, is it in?

Madness.  But I know I’m not the only one who does the e-mail-it-to-myself thing.  My wife does it. My students do it.  I’ve seen colleagues do it, here and at other institutions.  I’m happy to tell you that there’s a better way: Dropbox.

Dropbox does something amazing: It sets up a folder on your machine, a folder apparently like any other, except with magical powers: Whatever you put into it is automatically backed up into the cloud, and is accessible by you from any computer with a web browser, immediately and without any fussing.  If you make changes to the file, the Dropbox servers maintain previous versions.  If you install the Dropbox software on, for instance, your work and your home computers, then the Dropbox folder on both computers is always synced.  With no worries, no settings, no configuring–easy.  So, for example, to grade a recent set of papers, I set up my folder in a dropbox, and–there it was.  At home and at work.  Always the same.  I accessed it from another computer through the web interface–no sweat.  I accessed it from my iPhone.  Dropbox works on multiple platforms, and it makes syncing and backup impossibly easy. (Watch Jason Snell explain it here.)

What’s also great about it is that you can specify sharing on particular folders.  For example, at the risk of name-dropping a bit, I was invited to join Dropbox by this guy so that he could share some information with me about an upcoming visit to our campus.  So, we have a folder that we can both access, although we can’t see the rest of our respective folders.  You can also make a public folder, so that you can share pictures and such with anyone.

2GB are free, and then you can pay for more.

There are a lot of web services I like (delicious, 30boxes, pbwiki, twitter, gmail, flickr), but Dropbox is the most intuitive and gamechanging one. You should try it.

*Local readers will say, “but you could just use your M:\ drive,” which is true, but it’s irritating to use with a Mac, and you can’t do–as far as I know–the nifty sharing-with-other-people trick.  What I value in services is how painfree they make my life.

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