Friday, December 5, 2014

My academic anti-lifehacks

I'm an academic productivity hack addict. A failing one. I keep finding new apps that are supposed to help me in my work. I test them and stop using them usually within one or two weeks. I keep finding new advice that sounds brilliant, try to put it in practice, and fail. So I thought, well, whatever I do in some sense works for me. Perhaps instead I should try to figure out what it is that I do that ends up killing all the supposedly good habits I'm trying to acquire and still makes me almost efficient at what I do. So here's a list of weird academic hacks that I came up with, which kind of capture some of my main strategies.
  1. I forget my laptop charger. Every day. If I'm going to work in my office, library, beach shack, gym, or wherever  I decide to work, I make it a point  not to take my laptop charger. It will limit the amount of work I'll do on the laptop (my battery life is around 4-5 hrs), so (1) I'll focus on work and avoid procrastination when I use the laptop, because I am more aware that every minute of my battery life that I spend googling whether a cow without a head is heavier than an average tiger is going to leave me laptopless in my boring office for a minute longer. (2) The usual stuff people do when they procrastinate (such as using internet connection, watching yt videos of hunting turtles, shooting zombies, etc.) drains my battery faster than just typing text on a dimmed screen. (3)  Once my battery dies, I'll have to come up with a more old-school way of spending my time usefully - I'll read a book or a paper I didn't have time to read or build a forest shelter I always dreamt of thus awaking the little Ron Swanson that lives inside my head. Perhaps I might even consider interacting with humans without the mediation of digital technology. Scary stuff.
  2. I forget my laptop. Once a week or so. See point (3) of remark 1. Also, a break from technology will make me feel refreshed. Not to mention that once I sit in front of my laptop the next day, I'll feel more excited about spending the next few hours using it to write.
  3. I do what I want. Seriously. If there is a research task/project that I need to complete, but I don't feel like doing it (and there isn't any real time pressure so I can postpone it a bit), I don't do it. Instead, I focus on some other research/writing task that I feel like working on. If your job is your calling (and if you're a researcher, it should be, why else would anyone want to become one, really), in the end things will balance out. If there is a project I never feel like working on,  I give it up - I  can't be creative or efficient working on it and I can spend my time better being more efficient working on what I love. If in the end things don't balance out, it means I had the wrong job to start with, so it's actually good to be failing, because it'll force me to look for a carrer I'm more destined for and will be happier with.
  4. I don't plan my work. I cannot predict what I will have mood to work on even in a day or two. If I think too much about what to do, I (1) waste my time planning, (2) usually fail to accomplish what I planned anyway, because life is too chaotic and upredictable (and I tend to overestimate what I can really accomplish), (3) I feel forced to work on stuff I planned to do but at a given moment don't want to do (see the point about doing what you want), (4) get frustrated about (2). Discipline is cool if you're a character in a Bruce Lee movie, but in real life instead of making me a research ninja, it's rather likely to make me suicidal.
  5. I plan to work. But only one or two days ahead. That is, I put aside a certain time to work, without deciding what I'll be doing. If I plan more, I run into the troubles mentioned in point 4. If I do not plan to work at all (and I have the attention span of a stoned giraffe), I'll end up spending my days on not doing enough to progress with my  work. If I plan more than two days ahead, again, you might end up wasting my time overthinking things and getting frustrated over unexpected events ruining my work schedule.   
  6. I don't do my homework. Or at least not completely. To write a sensible page of a research paper I need to read around 100 pages of material related to the topic. If I  want to write 15 pages in a paper, this grows to 1500 pages of homework. By the time I finish reading the last paper from the pile I have no idea what was in the first one. Instead of reading all there is about the topic first, I gather the materials, read all abstracts, pick 20 top papers that are most interesting or most relevant to what I want to work on and start writing, reading up as I go.
  7. I write in layers. Writing a research paper is a bit like painting. I think of different papers to refer to as paint colors. I cannot use them all at the same time. I start painting some bits thinking about one paper, put it aside once I've written down all my thoughts resulting from this reading. Then I move on to the next paper, intertwine my  new thoughts with the ones that I already have, and so on. As I proceed, the picture that will arise will become more and more clear - at the end what I have to do is to take a step back, think about the structure and add some finishing strokes.
  8. I don't focus too much. If you think you can be happy and efficient working on one single project for an extended period of time, you're fooling yourself. Or you might be a cylon, get tested. I always have at least two or three significantly different projects to work on, to switch between them when I get bored with what you're doing right now. I always have at least two or three books that I'm reading at the same time.
  9. I assume the reader is an angry, picky, lazy idiot. He's angry, so he'll bitch about any slight mistake I make - I try to avoid the mistakes, but am prepared for some bitchy reviews anyway. He's picky - so there are no small things to be ignored, before I submit I have to have no doubts about any part of what I say in the paper. If there's something I think I could've done better, he'll pick on it, so I try to deal with it before sending the paper off. He's an idiot: I have to repeat my points (tell them what you're gonna do, do that, and then tell them what you've done), make them as clear as possible. He's lazy: if he has to read a few books or papers to understand the paper, he'll rather toss it aside and go for a beer. I try to make the paper as self-contained as possible given the circumstances. 
  10. Perish or perish. If you feel forced to write because your work requires you to publish, or if you choose journals to submit your paper to based on some weird point or ranking system, you're in the game for wrong reasons. I aim for the best journals in my field, but I write and submit stuff only if I think I have something new to say and really feel like writing. And I don't measure the quality of a journal by means of some weird official ranking prepared by people who don't know much about the discipline. To face the truth: in a sense I'll perish anyway, so I might as well not give a damn about ridiculous publishing pressures.

Friday, November 21, 2014

CFP: Applications of Logic in Philosophy and the FOM

Janusz Czelakowski (University of Opole), Tomasz Połacik (University of Silesia) and
Marcin Selinger  (University of Wrocław) organize the 20th edition of their conference. The event takes place in a small town in Polish mountains. Highly recommended. Details:

Monday, September 1, 2014

CFP: Applications of Formal Philosophy (book)

We welcome full paper submissions for a book titled:

Applications of Formal Philosophy
The Road Less Travelled

to be published with Springer, edited by Rafal Urbaniak and Gillman Payette.

If you're interested, please email your full paper, prepared in LaTeX, in PDF format, prepared for an anonymous refereeing process to both:

The submission deadline is December 31, 2014. Please include your contact details in the submission email.

Please make sure that the content of the paper fits the following description of the scope of the volume:

Logicians have devoted considerable effort to applying formal methods to what are now considered core disciplines of analytic philosophy: philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of language and  metaphysics. Researchers in these fields have been accused of sharpening their knives without actually cutting anything of interest to those outside of philosophy. The focus of formal methods is changing and our intent is to further counter the impression of idleness with respect to philosophy at large. The focus of the volume is on those applications of formal methods in philosophy which might be of interest to people working on philosophical questions of more direct relevance to human life.

Best regards,
Rafal Urbaniak
Gillman Payette

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Generalized mereology failure

One of the streams in the early development of set theory was an attempt to use mereology, a formal theory of parthood, as a foundational tool. The first such attempt is due to  Stanisław Leśniewski (1886–1939). The attempt failed, but there is another, prima facie more promising attempt by Jerzy Słupecki (1904–1987), who employed his generalized mereology to build mereological foundations for type theory. I have recently written a paper explaining what generalized mereology is and why it still fails as a foundation tool. The paper is available in History and Philosophy of Logic, but if you don't have access to that, a draft is available here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

TiL XIV, rough schedule

We now have a rough version of the schedule, including all the speakers and their titles. Here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Trends in Logic XIV - deadline extended

The submission deadline for Trends in Logic XIV has been extended to January 20. All other submission details remain unchanged (see here).

(Also, we still have some conference trip grants for formal philosophers from Poland!)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Forms should die, long live CVs

It's this wonderful time of the year when I and probably a lot of other researchers are swamped with paperwork, preparing yearly reports, grant applications etc. And it's ridiculous. 

Pretty much every friggin institution, whether you're submitting a report to the faculty, explaining what you've been doing to a grant agency, applying for a new research grant, trying to get money for a conference or whatnot requires you to include your CV in a format/online form of their choice. 

Now, I've counted how many times I had to do something like that over the last calendar year, and as far as I remember, it's 26. Each time it took me around 90 minutes to copy and format the data according to some bureaucrat's wishes, so together the procedure stole around  2340 minutes, that is, 39 hours of my time. This is pretty much a whole working week a year spent on re-formatting my CV!! To give you a bigger picture, consider the following examples:
  • The British Academy in year 2006/2007 received  578 applications.  Even if you think I'm slow and that everyone fills the CV-related fields in a form in, say, 60 minutes, this gives you 34680 minutes, that is 578 hours, that is more than full 24 days (24/7) or almost 15 working weeks of researchers' time, who instead of doing actual research stare at the screen and play around with font size, margin size and copy-pasting some boring stuff into online forms (and that's CVs only!).
  • Ghent University (this is just an example, I'm not picking on it) has around 5000 researchers/faculty. Let's say each of them spends just 30 minutes a year re-formatting or entering their data in some unusual format (and it's a pretty low estimate). This gives you 150 000 minutes, or 2500 hours, or more than 62 researchers' working weeks! (Also, if you're externally funded, you kinda have to do this twice).
The solution, I think, is to accept people's CVs instead, however they shaped them. Normally, researchers are not idiots and are sane enough to prepare their CVs in a fairly legible and transparent manner. Perhaps, reading CVs of different format will make the referee's job just a bit more challenging, but it also will make it less boring. And a referee who cannot easily read and understand a CV shouldn't be trusted anyway. 

And if you're running a university and need the researchers' publication data in some particular format, it's cheaper to hire someone to do things like that than to waste qualified researchers' time! (Even if it was 52 and not 62 weeks, it would still be cheaper, because the administrative staff salary is lower.)

So, dear bureaucrat! (Although, the chance you're reading this instead of coming up with new ways of making people's lifes worse, is rather low.) Please be aware that each decision regarding the use of non-standard formats instead of accepting CVs will have more serious results than you might initially think.