December 31, 2014

Dynamite and Other Old-Year Debris

People save things they would be better off without. This turned up in the news yesterday when a woman discovered, in a box of her late father’s possessions, among what looked like rolls of coins, enough dynamite to level a house. The story at CBC News:

October 13, 2014

Evidence Piles Up Against Multitasking

If you are “good at” multitasking, recent research on the subject hasn’t been good news. In one study after another, multitasking has been shown to be bad for productivity — you could get the same things done faster if you could address them one by one. Multitasking is as bad for your mood as it is for your brain. It tends to leave people feeling frazzled, distressed, depressed. It rewires the brain in a way that reduces a person’s effective intelligence, and not just a little, but well below the level of a fully functioning adult. Much of this change in brain structure persists — researchers don’t know for how long, perhaps weeks but perhaps years, but either way, for some period of time your thinking capacity is reduced for everything you attempt, whether multitasking or single-tasking. This effect is so pronounced that some have said quite bluntly that multitasking causes brain damage. Researchers trying to find the exceptions, the people and situations for which multitasking has a beneficial effect on productivity or at least mood, keep drawing a blank. Every task they can think of testing is made worse by trying to do it at the same time as any other task.

And now there is worse news than all this, when it comes to multitasking. Multitasking never gets any better. It only gets worse.

September 14, 2014

Curing Complexity, One Piece at a Time

I want to talk about the factorial function. It might seem an arcane piece of mathematics but it is valuable because it provides a way to measure the chaos that ordinary daily life can so easily turn into. Specifically, if you have a certain number of things to do, the factorial function tells you how many choices you have for the order you can do them in. Obviously, the question of sequence is only one aspect of the complexity that comes when you have many things, and it is not necessarily the most important question, but it is close enough, and it is a simple way to look at it mathematically. The factorial function shows you the way complexity grows when there are more things going on. The growth of complexity is faster than people intuitively expect, and the factorial function shows this to you.

July 14, 2014

Clothing Counting

Do you want to be wearing the same clothes ten years from now — the exact same clothes that you have in the closet right now?

June 30, 2014

Too Many Books?

Elizabeth Bluemle at Publisher’s Weekly asks the question of book clutter:

The simple answer for books is the same as in any area of possessions: keep only the books that you are likely to read again or otherwise use in the future. But for book collectors, the answer is rarely this simple, as you can see in the comments on the post at the link above.

May 18, 2014

Avoiding the Subject of Clutter

The question “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” forms the title of a new book by Roz Chast. I haven’t seen the book myself, but I am told that the title refers to the touchy question Roz asked her aging parents about what would happen to all of their stuff when they were no longer around to watch over it. It was a subject they ultimately never could bring themselves to address.

That’s a common story, of course, and not just among those of us who are getting old. Most people living a middle-class lifestyle have several times more possessions than they can realistically ever use. Most of it, logically, is clutter, and should be taken away in way or another. Unfortunately, it is easier to postpone the question of which part is actually excess. It’s a subject that can wait until after we are done with whatever we are in the middle of this week, and in practice, that means it can wait indefinitely, or at least until the next time we move.

March 12, 2014

A File Disaster

It was a cold and stormy winter at my place. One of the pipes froze — ironically, a hot water pipe, but that tells you how cold it was. The power was out for four days. The well broke. When it was all over, I noticed that my file cabinet also got wet.

March 05, 2014

14 Hours at a House Fire

I have written in general terms about the way clutter can be a fire risk, but here is a true-life story from today’s news that shows the inconvenience of clutter in a form most people wouldn’t think of.

From a Telegraph & Argus story:

Firefighters spent almost 14 hours at the scene of a house blaze because there was so much clutter in the property they could not tell if anyone was trapped inside.

February 07, 2014

The Importance of Sleep, 25 Different Ways

It is tempting to think of sleep as optional, and then to try to get more done by staying up later and sleeping less. It is a strategy that doesn’t work as well as it might seem it should. Researchers keep discovering more and more ways that sleep is important. Writing in Business Insider, Lauren F. Friedman lists:

January 01, 2014

Happy “Srsly. OMG. New” Year

I think sometimes we forget to change. Times change, we know we need to change too, but we forget. This especially applies to those of us who are old enough to have maybe earned a college diploma or changed jobs more than one or two times. We anticipate difficulties and obstacles, just as part of staying where we are. We get jaded. That’s when “new” starts to mean a new hat and maybe painting over the stain on the front porch, and “new year” becomes something along the lines of this overnight tweet from the Angry Birds video game: