Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Want to be creative? Try working alone

See this NYT article on the importance of time alone to creativity.

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why ConEd meter readers should carry mascara

Not for the makeup, but for the mirror.

The meter reader came earlier this month, and he couldn't read one of the meters in the basement. The meter is in a closet in the basement, but it is right up against the wall, about 4 inches away, so from within the closet you can't see the face of the meter.

There is a hole cut in the wall, but we have a bookcase in front of the hole.

We tried taking a picture of the meter with my iPhone, but it was too dark, and the flash was too bright that close up.

So I grabbed my wife's mascara case. With the mirror, the reading was done in a jiffy.

If meter readers don't want to start carrying a mascara case, they could carry this $5.50 mirror.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Form new connections

A fascination visualization from a scholarly article that uses clickstream data, rather than citations, to look at links among the various disciplines. What is interesting to me about this mapping is not the connections, but the gaps. The gaps are a guide to potentially innovative collaborations across disciplines. For example, could applied physics have anything to teach a researcher of public health? Could an economist have a fruitful collaboration with a classicist?

Intricate maps of science have been created from citation data to visualize the structure of scientific activity. However, most scientific publications are now accessed online. Scholarly web portals record detailed log data at a scale that exceeds the number of all existing citations combined. Such log data is recorded immediately upon publication and keeps track of the sequences of user requests (clickstreams) that are issued by a variety of users across many different domains. Given these advantages of log datasets over citation data, we investigate whether they can produce high-resolution, more current maps of science.

Over the course of 2007 and 2008, we collected nearly 1 billion user interactions recorded by the scholarly web portals of some of the most significant publishers, aggregators and institutional consortia. The resulting reference data set covers a significant part of world-wide use of scholarly web portals in 2006, and provides a balanced coverage of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. A journal clickstream model, i.e. a first-order Markov chain, was extracted from the sequences of user interactions in the logs. The clickstream model was validated by comparing it to the Getty Research Institute's Architecture and Art Thesaurus. The resulting model was visualized as a journal network that outlines the relationships between various scientific domains and clarifies the connection of the social sciences and humanities to the natural sciences.

Maps of science resulting from large-scale clickstream data provide a detailed, contemporary view of scientific activity and correct the underrepresentation of the social sciences and humanities that is commonly found in citation data.

From Drop Box

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lifetime subscription

Why don't more magazines offer lifetime subscriptions? Did they ever?

They could save some money on all the pestering letters.

One problem, I suppose, is checking now and then to verify that the subscribers are still alive.

While it might not capture a big share of subscribers, it would position the magazine as a graduation present.

Would they need to price it based on your age?

Probably not. If they charged enough to fund an annuity with an annual payment equal to the subscription, then it wouldn't matter if you were 10 or 70.

And they could perhaps charge advertisers more based on this super-loyal following.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad! / Kitchen Spray Nozzle Replacement

A video my dad posted on YouTube on how to replace a kitchen spray nozzle has received over 6,300 views and a bunch of appreciative comments. I'm willing to bet that most of those views were not people wasting five minutes at work, but people trying to figure out how to replace the spray nozzle in their own kitchen.

Nice work, Dad! And Happy Birthday!

Thanks. I too didn't know about the whole C ring. It was taped to the new package, but I didn't see it.
hudi44511 2 months ago
Thanks, now we don't have to hire someone to fix the tenants sprayer!
387spiral 8 months ago
Thank you soooo much...i couldnt figure out how to get the sprayer off not knowing about the little C ring.....u made my life easy today...lol well be watching more videos of you
powwowsinger1 8 months ago
Thank you! A number of other DIY videos didn't show the details, skipping the bit about the metal c ring that was preventing my sprayer hose bits from coming off, driving me mad trying to figure it out.
mtnfalcon 8 months ago
Thanks, Bill! That little metal C-clip was totally hidden on mine. Your video showed me where it was, and how to take it off.
laepierce 9 months ago
Thank You! I successfully for the first time ever fixed my sink sprayer watching your video, YAY!!!!
glitterfreak21 9 months ago
redbutt396 11 months ago

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Allow 4-6 weeks for your subcription to start

Why 4-6 weeks? I can understand that a few decades ago it may have taken that long to process a magazine subscription form, have a typist add it to the rolls, mail the set of addressees to a printer, but today?

If you subscribe via an online form, why shouldn't you get the very next issue? In fact, why don't you get the current issue?

The sooner your subscription starts, the sooner the magazine can start recognizing revenue. So why don't they make every effort to start your subscription immediately?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't ever ask someone to take a job

Advice from a senior executive whom I respect:

"I've hired hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and I've learned one thing the hard way: don't ever ask someone to take a job. That never works out. Offer them the job, and let them sign up for it if they really want it. But don't try to talk someone into it. They need to want to do it."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cool site for free culture

A friend recently introduced me to this site. It has a curated list of links to free audiobooks, free movies, free ebooks, and other gems:


Saturday, January 14, 2012

How would you act differently if...

How would you act differently if you knew that you would be living in your current neighborhood for the rest of your life? Would you make more of an effort to learn the names of the guy behind the counter at the hardware store, the pharmacist, the butcher? Would you volunteer to help organize the Halloween parade? Would you get to know your neighbors?

How would you act differently if you expected to interact with the professionals you just met multiple times throughout your career? Would you take more time to build trust?

How would you act differently if you knew that you'd be a regular at this restaurant? Or return to this B&B?

How would you act differently if you knew that one of the job applicants you are interviewing today will some day be in a position to hire you?

You can treat life as a series of transactions, or a series of chances to start new relationships.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hand wipes not for use on hands

Hat tip to my dad for this photo.

This is getting close to a Buddhist koan: what do you do with a hand wipe that is not for use on hands?

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

US Airways iPhone App - sign this online petition

US Airways has not yet created iPhone app.

Sign this online petition to let US Airways know that you would like US Airways to create an app.

Here is a screenshot of the petition. Click this link to go to the petition site.

If that link doesn't work, you can copy and paste this link:

Once we get some signatures, I'll forward this to executives at US Airways.


The text of the petition says:
An iPhone app would improve the experience of travelers on US Airways. Most other airlines have one. One nice feature in particular would be the ability to download an electronic boarding pass (and then be able to access it offline.) Also we would like all the standard features such as seeing all of our own reservations at a glance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cash only at Best Yet

At Best Yet, our local supermarket, the server went down on New Year's Eve day. They stopped accepting checks or any form of plastic - it was cash only, and the lines backed up. At least they were still able to scan items. The woman behind me told me that she has seen this happen at the store three or four times on busy holiday shopping days. The lines filled the entire front section of the store, stretching all the way from the produce section to the beer aisle.

Time to upgrade your server, guys!

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pick a roll

Best Yet doesn't make comparison shopping easy on these rolls of paper towels. The packaging and verbiage on both was nearly identical. But the one on the left cost $1.79, the one on the right was $0.99.

The one on the left did seem thicker - the volume was about 50% greater, but nothing on the package indicates how they are different.

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Poseidon shirt

Innovation Bootcamp loves homemade gifts, and this homemade Poseidon shirt from Tia Dina amazed all of us. She made the stencil out of wax paper and used fabric paint on a store-bought orange tee shirt. Thanks Dina!

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Monday, January 9, 2012

Schedule for 2012 BAMkids Film Festival Feb 4-5

The BAMkids film festival (Feb 4-5, 2012) looks pretty fantastic.

On their website, they don't have a schedule that lets you see which films overlap, so I created this one in Excel. Not really necessary if you plan to just see one film, but if you want to do a marathon, this lets you build your lineup.

BAM 2012 kids movie festival schedule -

Daddy let's make something

8 p.m. at night and my daughter wanted to do a project before going to bed. "Daddy, let's make something from wood."

Two paint sticks, a block of wood, an old sock, and a few felt stickers later, the project need was satisfied.

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Doormat gift

One of the best gifts from this holiday season. Margarita's sister bought a plain doormat, cut out a stencil, and used fabric paint. The pig is in honor of the hogs we raise at the farm. Thanks Dina!

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why doesn't the NYPD stop this?

In a city so dependent on the media industry, one would think that the New York City Police Department would take the trouble to stop people from selling bootleg DVDs in the subway. It seems to me it wouldn't take much more than confiscating all the merchandise and issuing a summons to the vendor. After a few experiences losing all her goods, she would probably stop setting up stop at the 59th Street Stop.

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Friday, January 6, 2012

Save 30% on New York City parking tickets

You can save 30% on most New York City parking tickets. When you get to the NYCService Center screen, instead of going directly to pay your parking ticket, select "Request a hearing for: Parking... Violations."

Once you enter your violation number from the ticket, you usually get offered a settlement of 70% of the ticketed amount, if you are willing to plead guilty and pay the fine. Then you accept the reduced amount and go back and then pay that. (It takes about 2 days for the system to update. So if you have a $45 ticket, you'll get a settlement of $32. If you go to immediately pay that ticket, it will still show as $45. But you can manually enter a payment amount of $32.)

This may not work if you delay more than 20 or 30 days in paying your ticket.

If New York City offered a "Frequent Violator" program, we wouldn't have Executive Platinum status, I'm happy to say, but we would probably be Gold or Silver. Maybe that would let us earn points so that the tenth violation would be free.


Thursday, January 5, 2012


A friend who is an expert blogger at Fast Company recommends Scribendi for editing services.

Their rates seem pretty reasonable.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting knives sharpened

Over the holidays I finally got around to getting all of our knives sharpened.

You can hone a knife at home, but that only goes so far. Taking knives to a shop and getting them sharpened is like getting a brand-new knife for $3-5 a piece. But it isn't very convenient to do: you need to bundle them all up in some kitchen cloths so you don't cut yourself and scratch them together.

There aren't many places where you can get your knives sharpened. And the places that do exist aren't that easy to find. One time a couple years ago I dropped our knives off at the local butcher shop; they sent them out to the service they use. It worked well, but took about a week to get my knives back.

At the shop that I found, Arrow Triboro Tool & Saw Inc., the owner said that he knew of one guy that use to go door to door sharpening knives, but that it doesn't pay.

I wonder if an enterprising bicycle delivery guy could make a decent business picking up and dropping off knives. The main bicycle delivery business is probably around lunchtime and the evening, so mornings and afternoons are probably open. A person could generate business by posting fliers on telephone poles, or leaving fliers door to door, with a phone number and email address. The offer could be: your knives get picked up in the morning, and get dropped off sharpened in the afternoon or the evening.

You need to pay when the knives are picked up, so the delivery person has no risk of not getting paid. The delivery could be in the afternoon, or if you don't want the knives left out, it could be in the evening when you are home. The delivery fee could be $1 per knife, or a $5 minimum. With the pickups concentrated in the morning, I think you could do 6 pickups in an hour. It would take another hour to do all the deliveries, so a 6 x $5 = $30 divided by 2 hours you could make $15 per hour.

Ideally you would build a client list and set up a plan to pick up knives once a quarter for sharpening.

The delivery person might also get a cut from the knife sharpening shop given the volume that they bring in.

I'd certainly be happy to be a customer of this pickup/dropoff service.

From Innovation Bootcamp post Nov 1 2011

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Make your goals your desktop

Set yourself some goals for 2012? Consider making your goals the desktop image on your computer.

Here is one way to do that:
1)Download this template in PPT.
2)Determine the resolution of your screen
3)Adjust the size of the template (go to Design / Page Setup) to match the ratio of your screen. My screen is 1400 x 900, so I made the PPT 11 in. x 6.8 in.
4)Replace my goals with yours
5)Save the PPT file as a jpeg
6)On a Windows machine: Go to the Desktop. Right click, choose Personalize. Then choose Desktop Background. Browse for the jpeg you just created.

Goals for 2012 template in PPT -

Monday, January 2, 2012

History Professor.org

Looking for some good reading in 2012?

My good friend Zachary Schrag is an historian at George Mason University and has published a list of recommended reading on his blog, historyprofessor.org. These are books that professional historians admire and that also appeal to lay readers. Click here, or copy and paste this link:

I also recommend reading his short essays on
How to Read a History Book
Reverse Engineering for Historians

This site ought to be required reading for any high school or college student taking a history class.

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