Notes for Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Some overlap in Scott Young’s reading list with some of my most important reads. My ODB book features James and Lakoff pretty prominently as writers who shaped my approach here. In fact, the book that Scott mentions, Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff was the first of his I read and made the first connection for me between the neural maps of the brain and the semantic versions that seem abstract but are always rooted in the physical world. Our world of words and ideas are metaphors for concrete reality since that reality is all our brain was ever built to deal with. We’ve added this semantic layer of meaning on top, much like an augmented reality. I see a bit of shiny metal but think and associate spoon. And soup. And ice cream. It was Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being which Lakoff wrote with Nunez that really cemented for me this idea that our ideas are all based in metaphors drawn from the physical world.

I’ve stopped bothering with dropping Amazon affiliate links when I discuss books. I’ve never seen enough monetary return to go through the trouble of looking up the link at Amazon. Although it is a nice affordance for a reader who’s thinking about buying the book.

One of my new habits has been to download Kindle samples of interesting books and read the first couple of chapters. Often enough to get the idea with minimal commitment.

Speaking of Amazon, I really think they are hurting themselves with this emphasis on sponsored ads at the top of and throughout organic searches. I know a few people who don’t always realize that many or most of the results are not actually what they searched for. And often are overpriced copies or imitations of the object being sought. Twitter too is polluting my timeline with more and more sponsored, page filling ads. It used to be the occasional click bait. Now its straight ads and topic suggestions. Instagram still seems like a nice place to visit.

An endorsement goes out to Pen Tips from Groningen in the Netherlands. These are conical, silicon tips that fit on the end of the hard plastic of the Apple Pencil. I loved the idea of the Pencil with the iPad, but hate the slippery, bouncy feel of plastic on glass. And I can’t degrade the iPad screen with one of the matte protectors that is said to be a – feel. These Pen Tips provide enough cushion and friction to make using the Pencil practical for me. It’s not the tactile spring of a fountain pen on good paper, but then I would expect these digital tools to every really feel like that.

I actually spent a week or so in Groningen many years ago conducting a clinical trial. The highlight was a day trip to Schiermonnikoog National Park, one of the barrier islands in the North Sea. It’s is a quick ferry ride from the mainland and then one can only bicycle to get around the island. The images were shot with my first DSLR, the Olympus E1.

Another endorsement goes to Apple Fitness. I’ve wound down my summer cycling activity with 3 big rides over the last month and am now it what they like to call “Transition”, being off the bike and doing some cross training. So finally I’ve tried Apples workouts, so far sticking to Pilates, Strength Training and Treadmill. Actually I did try one Yoga workout. These workouts are not dumbed down and by no means easy. They let you set your own intensity, say by picking your own dumbbell weights. They are fast an efficient, going from exercise to exercise without rest over 10 to 30 minutes. You get instruction- verbal and visual plus get to work out at home in a very short period of time. I will be incorporating some of this year round.

While I’m writing here, I make slow halting progress on the book manuscript. I’ve made an editing run through the first three chapters, but its harder to do in short chunks compared to getting out that first full draft. I’m hopeful that winter will bring some time to work on it, but my work life has been busy with taking care of family and cycling being the two big priorities.

Notes for Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The 2022 Hobonichi orders opened last month and for the first time in a few years I didn’t immediately place an order. The Hobonichi has been my daily morning diary for organizing the coming day and I can’t see moving away from it. I just realized that shipping was was equal to the price of of the book itself and it would be better to patronize one of the US shops selling it. So far, only the English version is available and I really prefer the Japanese layout even though the quotes that decorate the bottom of the page are meaningless to me. I’m hoping that Jet Pens or someone else has it soon, but ordering from Japan remains an option.

I logged into Dave Winer’s Drummer Blogging tool and I’m envious of the environment. It’s the equivalent of my casual photography approach. It’s outline based and focused purely on daily posts. I’m reminded of the Bullet Journal approach of simple lines that are todo’s, recording of events, thoughts or lists. I don’t think I want to leave my WordPress setup here, but will take the inspiration to see if I can start casual blogging like my casual photography.

The blogging workflow today is capturing links and thoughts in Drafts using Markdown which will get tidied and uploaded with MarsEdit or the WordPress app if the Markdown works. It’s a little variation from the usual flow aimed at creating a collection of notes that can be quickly edited and posted. Not quite Drummer’s direct writing to the web with paragraph by paragraph permanent links and generation of an RSS feed. This is a bit more like the newsletter approach that so many are using as a substitute or supplement to blogging.

John Scalzi, like me, appreciates how WordPress enables website ownership without technical hassle. While I’d love a blog that lived as an OPML outline like my old Bloxsom site lived in text files, I’ve come to appreciate that these blogs are transient entities. After all, this is ODB 3.0 as the old EditThisPage site hosting was abandoned and the text file system was too simple for the modern web world.

I’m looking at the surviving Link Blogs for inspiration, realizing only now that on a phone, any one of these paragraphs is a screen or two or three of text. And that’s where we read now.

Yes, I did buy a Mac Mini. As a small consumption device for reading and serving streaming music.

COVID-19: Science working in real time.

My real job is Drug Development, so I design and run clinical trials for a living. The mRNA vaccines are a triumph of molecular biology that owe their origins to the Human Genome Project and people like Francis Collins and Craig Venter. People forget or have never learned this history. I was there and have experienced the revolution in medicine we’re currently living through. But a discussion of the vaccine development is for another time.

Today I heard this report on NPR which was a bit different from my understanding regarding spreading of infection by vaccinated individuals. Breakthrough COVID may not be as threatening as scientists thought : NPR. Just like those recently infected may have virus mRNA detectable by nasal swab but be no longer capable of infecting others, vaccination may do this as well, maybe even better. Directly contradicts this from NPR just a few months ago. CDC: Data Shows Vaccinated People Can Spread The Delta Variant : Coronavirus Updates : NPR. Or maybe the truth is that COVID vaccines cut the risk of transmitting Delta — but not for long

This is science. This is where I live day to day. Conflicted evidence and uncertainty. Really tough on the public health authorities asked to provide policy and guidance to the public, to businesses and to government. It’s true we tend to be conservative under conditions of uncertainty like this. But there’s no question that any risk of vaccination is clearly outweighed by the benefit to oneself and to others in your community. And where there’s spread, masking and social distancing are the only tools we have to flatten the curve of exponential spread of infection. Those facts are clear.

We’re learning huge amounts about viral pandemics from these events. Learning about viral mutation through the course of a pandemic. Learning about how this new vaccine technology works in the real world- the right dose, the right schedule and how to monitor for adverse events when a complete new medical treatment is rolled out to hundreds of millions of people in the course of 6 months. Just amazing science and medicine.

Believe me, we’ll not only get through this and the pandemic will end over the next year or so. But our understanding of the events is only just starting. And that’s how science has always worked.

Notes for Monday, October 11, 2021

As my contribution to the rebirth of blogging, here’s a few quick thoughts in no particular order:

A note of thanks to Dave Rogers for his appreciation of my intermittent efforts here. Dave’s writing is always both personal and insightful and example of what a public personal journal can aspire to be. I also think of Dave as a model of my ideal reader, curious and educated, but no expert in the many esoteric areas I write about here.

I’m troubled by our inability to fix pharmaceutical pricing in the US. Even though I know that money controls much of our governments policies, this is one of those popular, reasonable and necessary changes that can’t get done becuae of how our politics is controlled by influence rather than public good. And I’ve spent the last 30 years in Drug Development so I know how pricing, reimbursement and rebates obscure the real prices paid and passed to patients.

We’re getting more and more detail on how our expectations shape our perception even at the lowest level of sensory processing. The subjective impression that we’re looking at “what is” is so powerful! In truth, that experience is a construction patched together from fragmentary input that creates a model of where and who we are in the world. All mechanims that can be revealed in experiments, but that we have no access to and can’t examine in any way.

Another illusion is that decisions are rational because we have subjective access to the process when we are aware of choosing. But the options we imagine are generated subjectively and limited to what we can imagine, the values of different outcome are pure subjective feelings about what we want and the chances of success are subjective guesses. Where’s the rationality in imagination, feelings and guesses?

How BIll Gates Takes Notes

Note taking apps are proliferating. Everyone agrees that note taking is “a good thing” Have you thought about why? Here’s a now famous example.

Back I n 2003, Rob Howard described a meeting with Bill Gates

The first thing I notice as the meeting starts is that Bill is left-handed. He also didn’t bring a computer in with him, but instead is taking notes on a yellow pad of paper. I had heard this before – Bill takes amazingly detailed notes during meetings. I image he has to, given all the information directed at him. The other thing I noticed during the course of the meeting is how he takes his notes. He doesn’t take notes from top-to-bottom, but rather logically divides the page into quadrants, each reserved for a different thought. For example, it appeared that all his questions were placed at the bottom of the page.

This is an anecdote that continues to be retold whenever the subject of note taking comes up on the web. Perhaps It’s most remarkable that Bill Gates would come into a room with nothing more than a yellow legal pad. And then proceed to take detailed notes. After all as a computer visionary and one of the richest men in the world, Gates could have an assistant take notes. He could ask for a detailed minutes and summaries from all meeting attendees. Or he could sit back as the senior guy in the room and observe the meeting, remaining aloof from the give and take of the project review.

Taking notes during a meeting sends a powerful message. It directly demonstrates that the notetaker is listening and processing the discussion. It shows that what is being said is important enough to record permanently. I make my living providing strategic advice and oversight to drug development teams. I’ve learned to watch for note taking in the meeting as a signal of significant information. When the pens come out, something important has been said. I can gauge my own impact by whether or not anyone writes down what I say.

For the note taker, the act of recording promotes active listening. Without making the effort, it’s all too easy to just follow the flow of presentations and discussion without being intellectually engaged. Synthesizing the information into a set of useful notes requires another stage of processing beyond simple understanding. Certainly it enhances the ability to recall and present the discussion later on. The fact that Gates didn’t have a computer makes him seem almost naked in the room. With nothing besides blank paper in front of him, he had to be focused on the meeting, not scanning and sorting the hundreds of emails he certainly receives in the course of a day.

If the meeting is important enough to be physically present, then it should be important enough to be mentally present as well.

Rob’s other interesting observation was that Gates used a structured note taking system. All we learn is that he divided the page into quadrants and used the bottom area to record questions.

The Cornell System

I’ve never been able to find any more information than this, but I assume that Gates picked up the Cornell system or some variant at some point in his life. Details on the Cornell system can be found at Cornell’s site. and there’s even a pdf generator to produce prepared templates for note taking.

The Cornell system is very simple, but was created to help college students record lectures and study for exams. A vertical line is made about a quarter of the way from the left margin. The large right side is for notes, the smaller left side is for “Cues”, questions based on the notes that can be used to clarify and recall the information in the notes. A bottom area of about 2 inches is for summarizing the notes on the page for easy reference.

I modified the Cornell system for my own use by using the cue area a place to record decisions and next actions. Taking Gate’s lead, I used the bottom for questions to pursue during or after the meeting- often topics or ideas to record later for my own use. I’ll freely admit that this sometimes becomes a distraction from active listening, but it keeps me in the meeting and away from email and social networking.

That takes care of the meeting. Once you’ve captured a few pages of notes, then what? First, even if the notes were never referenced again, the act of taking notes itself has been valuable in and of itself. But most of the time some processing is in order. And that simply means getting what’s useful into the other systems used to keep information available. Gathering next actions and appointments into lists and calendars, for example. Updating project summaries perhaps.

What I’ve personally find most useful is to file the notes in a project folder that comes out of the filing cabinet when I work on the project in the future. This kind of active note taking is a great aid to memory, vividly bringing back the logic and emotion of previous discussions and decision making. There’s the good and the bad, the “I told you so” notes and the “How could we have been so naive” notes.

Using meeting notes to bring the past vividly to mind leads to better decision making that always allowing the past to be a vague shadow that clouds our thinking.