Monthly Archives: April 2004


Welcome to Vacuum!

I'm typing this from a new email client, Google's "Gmail".  It's a free web based mail service in beta test that has a few neat features:

– 1 gigabyte of free mail storage (compare to the 20mb or so I have on Yahoo)
– Google adwords integrated with mail viewing (handy for surfing)
– keyboard accelerators for mail reading (so you don't have to click so much).

I've noticed some issues running it under Mozilla Firefox, but at least one other person has reported those and said there are settings in Firefox to get around the problem; will do those.

Ideally someone would come up with a way to rapidly blast all of the mail I have on Yahoo Mail to Gmail, back up a bunch of imap folders, and otherwise use Google as a big disk storage space in the sky.  It appears to be a system that warrants more intensive use, since the more mail you have stored there the better your search results are when you query.

In the knowledge management world, Google's Gmail seems to support a "big heap of laundry" approach to storing your memories – it does have category tags you can apply to things, but just imagining how many categories you might apply over 1G of mail makes me blanch.


(and thanks Ev for the beta)



the past didn’t go anywhere – ani difranco and utah phillips

the past didn’t go anywhere – ani difranco and utah phillips

Pros: Great mix, good beat, lots of good stories

Cons: Only one disc, wish there was more

The Past Didn't Go Anywhere

“the past didn’t go anywhere” is a collaboration between Ani DiFranco and Utah Phillips. Utah is a storyteller and self-admitted folk-singer, and this album is a remix by Ani of many hours of Utah’s stories. He sent her a box full of cassettes of stories he told at live concerts, and she cleaned it up, selected a few from many, put down rhythm tracks and music. The liner notes say it was three weeks work.

This is topnotch stuff. Utah tells some great stories all by himself, and Ani makes him groove. Best line from the disc: “If I cannot dictate the conditions of my work, I will henceforth cease to labor.” Try that out at your next job interview.

The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

Fallows on Knowledge Management

In today’s NY Times, article by James Fallows (Atlantic Monthly correspondent) on knowledge management software (“Humans vs. Computers, Again. But There’s Help for Our Side”). (as seen on the AIFIA digest)

“The underlying intellectual question about knowledge management is
whether people actually think of knowledge as a big heap of laundry
just out of the dryer, or as neatly folded pajamas, shirts and so on,
all placed in the proper drawers. The ‘big heap’ theory lies behind
some of the programs;: we don’t care where or how things are stored;
we just want to find certain pairs of socks–or P.D.F. [sic]
files–exactly when we need them. The ‘folded PJ’s’ theory guides a
variety of programs that let you mark identification as it shows
up–for instance, tagging an article you know you want to refer to
later, when shopping for a new car. Brains work both ways, and the
ideal K.M. software will, too.”

I think you could take the “knowledge management as laundry management” metaphor a step further. Is your big heap sorted by color, wash temperature, and the person who needs it next? Are your folded PJs accomodating of a PJ end-user who is fickle in tastes and doesn’t always like the dinosaur PJs, never mind that they’re outgrowing them twice a year? hm.

Anne Fadiman: “Moving”, from The American Scholar

Moving, by Anne Fadiman.
First published and copyright © The American Scholar 2002,
Read by June Spence for Assistive Media.
Length: 25 minutes

Read an Interview with Anne Fadiman from the Atlantic. The “Moving” essay is reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly: Anne Fadiman’s account of moving from the city to the country seems endlessly re-readable, embodying the essay form at its timeless best. It’s available in print as part of The Best American Magazine Writing 2002.

More about Anne Fadiman on the net:
– interview on her impending visit to Seattle at King County Journal
– long 1998 Atlantic Monthlyinterview
– 1997 interview in Beatrice on her book The Sprit Catches You and You Fall Down
– bio at the Barclay Agency speakers bureau
– links at Philip Nel site at KSU

Marginalia (Edgar Allen Poe)

Edgar Allen Poe on Marginalia, a 19th century view of surfing through hypertext:

In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.

All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice;- yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure; which is profit, in despite of Mr. Bentham, with Mr. Mill on his back.

[…]During a rainy afternoon, not long ago, being in a mood too listless for continuous study, I sought relief from ennui in dipping here and there, at random, among the volumes of my library- no very large one, certainly, but sufficiently miscellaneous; and, I flatter myself, not a little recherche.

Perhaps it was what the Germans call the “brain-scattering” humor of the moment; but, while the picturesqueness of the numerous pencil-scratches arrested my attention, their helter-skelter-iness of commentary amused me. I found myself at length forming a wish that it had been some other hand than my own which had so bedevilled the books, and fancying that, in such case, I might have derived no inconsiderable pleasure from turning them over. From this the transition- thought (as Mr. Lyell, or Mr. Murchison, or Mr. Featherstonhaugh would have it) was natural enough:- there might be something even in my scribblings which, for the mere sake of scribblings would have interest for others.

more on marginalia: muri on marginalia

Managing interruptions

My days have some combination of long stretches of mostly heads-down work on one topic, and interrupt-ridden times where my attention goes from one task to the next just as quickly as it can. Sometimes I get flow, sometimes I get thrash. I like “flow” better.

I’ve been enjoying reading David Allen’s weblog, trying to get some ideas for how to deal with interrupts that come in faster than once every two minutes – Allen suggests that if you get something small in your field of view that would only take two minutes you should just do it. But how to handle things that appear faster than that? (Perhaps the answer is, don’t carry devices or run software that does that to you).

One approach is to physically pick up and move every few hours, and use the travel time to be offline for a little bit and to let my head clear. Some priorities look a lot more clear if you’re not in the middle of the trenches.

A second that I’m still pretty happy about is to keep my email inbox down to zero and sweep anything that is important but not urgent into an action folder, to be done later. That action folder doesn’t always get split-second response, but it does all get done. I’m sure there’s some variant on that that would work better – I do try to sweep work mail in a different direction than personal mail, as a first pass cut.