2012-06-29

Looking forward to Windows 8

I am not ashamed to say that I like Windows as an operating system since Windows 2000, though I prefer not to use other software programs by Microsoft. Being a linguist working on multiple languages in multiple scripts, I consider multilingual support as the most important feature of any operating system. Windows meets this demand of mine better than any other competing operating system in overall terms, again since Windows 2000. The subsequent versions of Windows, i.e., Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, did not add many new essential features to my computing experience as Windows 2000 did with its multilingual support, nor do I believe that next versions of Windows will be able to do so.

Nevertheless, I have a good reason to look forward to Windows 8, the next version of Windows that is slated to be released in the fourth quarter of 2012. It is the fact that this new version is optimized for both conventional and tablet computers. This approach of Microsoft makes more sense and appeals to me more than the approach of Apple, which uses the same operating system for tablet computers and smartphones but not for tablet computers and conventional computers.

It is almost one year since I started using a tablet computer running on Android. Although I still like the idea of tablet computers as hardware, I become more and more dissatisfied with Android as an operating system; it is far inferior to Windows in terms of multilingual support. But what frustrates me most is the fact that I have to use two different operating systems on two different physical devices.

There is a chance that with the advent of Windows 8 this frustration of mine will be dissolved. In terms of the operating system, this is for sure. When it comes to hardware, some manufacturers, including Microsoft itself, have already released (what I consider prototypes of) convertible computers that can serve both as tablet computers and as laptop computers. I really hope that by the time Windows 8 is released, more mature convertible computers will be available. I will definitely purchase one of them instead of continuing to use two different operating systems on two different physical devices. This way I will be able to use the same favorite software programs I use on Windows for tablet computing, too.

Unfortunately, many of the Android applications I have tried are a kind of watered down version of Windows applications, with a few exceptions, including Mantano Reader for reading both EPUB and PDF documents. If I stop using my Android tablet computer, I will surely miss this amazing EPUB and PDF reader. For all the other Android applications I use I have far better alternatives for Windows. But I have not found anything comparable to Mantano Reader for Windows. I wish it were exported to Windows.

2012-06-22

How to remain self-disciplined mentally

A four-month summer vacation started today in Israeli universities. This means that my sabbatical also started today in practical terms, though it will only start officially in October after the end of this summer vacation. Of course, I am very happy to have this present of time away from the obligation of teaching as well as most of the bureaucratic work in the university for about 16 consecutive months. But I also have to be very strict with myself, as it would not be very difficult to pamper myself, making all sorts of excuses. So I have been asking myself recently the question of how to remain self-disciplined for this long period of time when only I am responsible for myself in time management.

I am quite self-disciplined about daily routines that are not related to work, including keeping the same early hours, eating meals at a fixed time, and running and swimming regularly. It is easy at least for me to remain self-disciplined about these daily activities as they do not require any mental concentration. The only "enemy" I have to fight inside me is physical laziness, which I have already tamed since I was still in my teens.

My main problem with my own self-discipline is about my work of producing new ideas in the forms of lectures for conferences and articles for periodicals. This kind of work, unlike the above mentioned activities, requires mental concentration, only through which I can be inspired to find new ideas and putting them into words. By its very nature, such work cannot be planned, that is, one cannot plan in advance and at will when one is inspired. But I believe and hope that there must be ways to raise the possibility of keeping my mind self-disciplined, as it were, during my work hours. Now I am reminded that what sets the standards for the rest of the day for my body is when I get up and what I do upon rising. This must also be the case with my mind.

I am afraid that many people, including many intellectually workers, start their daily mental work with no or little mental warm-up. Actually, I am one of them. Since I would like to make the best use of my sabbatical and get as many things as possible done which I am planning to do, I would also like the best use of what little mental capacity I have. So I wonder what can be the mental equivalent of this physical warm-up I can do in the early morning before starting to work. What I am planning to try is to dedicate an hour upon getting up to learning a book that requires mental concentration.

From my recent experience of learning the Talmud, though with a far more knowledgeable person, this can be an effective way of warming up my mind, even by myself with no study partner. So I am also thinking of joining the so-called daf yomi 'daily folio (of the Talmud)', that is, a daily study framework of the Talmud that was initiated in 1932 and has been accepted widely in the Jewish world. Many people throughout the Jewish world study the same folio, that is, two pages, of the Talmud in the cycle of about seven years and five months, and the new, 13th, cycle will start on the 3rd this August. This may be a good opportunity to join this regimen from the new beginning. Having such a framework will surely help me persevere. Although I am not sure yet if I can read every superficially one folio of the Talmud alone in one hour, it seems worth my while to try this.

2012-06-15

Factors disturbing concentration

One hour with concentration is often far more productive than hours on end without concentration. It seems to me that when I was much younger, I could concentrate better in my study and learn more than I can now. This change for the worse may simply be due to my "internal" factor, that is, as I become older, I can concentrate less and less for physical reasons. Even if this is the case, there must also be other, "external", factors disturbing my concentration now. Since I will start my first sabbatical in October (and a four-month summer vacation before than in about a week), I must detect these factors and find solutions to combat them so that I may be able to get as many things done which I have planned to do during this precious gift of time away from the obligation to teach.

So what external changes could have had a negative effect on my concentration? The only negative factor I can think of is the Internet, including email and the web, especially after the connection to it has become so ubiquitous. When I entered a university at the age of 18 and started living alone, I decided not to have a TV set in my apartment in order not to be disturbed by it. I realize more and more clearly that email and the web do to me what a TV set might have done to me. They do not always allow me to concentrate on one thing for a long time. University and other public libraries used to be "safe havens" until the free wireless connection to the Internet became available. So the only time when I am not connected to the Internet is while I use public transportation. Actually, I consider the intercity bus I use when I commute between my apartment in Jerusalem and my workplace in Ramat Gan my most efficient office as I have no Internet connection then.

My life, both private and professional, depends so much on email and the web, but I have to make a firm decision to use them more sparingly and efficiently. In this respect I probably need two separate approaches to email and the web. The main problem with email is that many of us tend to become addicted to it, checking it very frequently. I am one of them. Some time ago I made what I consider a wise decision - to disable the option of automatically checking email periodically so that I may not be bothered by an alert every time a new message arrives. My next mission is to check (and answer) email only during fixed hours before and after work or during breaks but never during work. But I still do not know how to stop my addiction to email. Possible solutions include not to open my mailer and to disconnect myself from the Internet while I am working.

The web poses a different set of problems, at least for me. I do not check it so addictively, partly because I receive updates of those websites important to me through a feed aggregator extension of my browser. As of now, my main problem is my addiction to Japanese TV dramas that are uploaded to the web and are viewable for free. In each season there are about 30 such dramas. Of course, I do not watch all of them. In each season I choose about five dramas. Unfortunately, watching these dramas has become one of my few entertainments as I stopped going to the movies, concerts and theaters for various reasons. So it may not be easy to stop watching them completely, but I definitely have to find a way to watch them in a less disturbing way such as recording and watching them only on Friday, when I do not work.

The Internet is without doubt a revolution in the history of human communication, but it has its price. I have to find ways to tame it instead of being subjugated by it, having my concentration disturbed and wasting my time. Of course, all this is easier said than done.

2012-06-08

Email as a double-edged communication tool

I consider email as the most efficient communication tool for most work-related matters. But unfortunately, I feel that this efficiency is being eroded constantly in my life for a number of reasons that in principle have nothing to do with myself or with the very essence of email. When I started using email 16 years ago, most other users of email were more or less the so-called "early adopters", therefore also geeks. I did not have many people to email back then, but on the other hand, I almost always received an immediate response from many of them, and no less importantly, they all knew email etiquette and followed it. With the popularization of the Internet in the following years and the resulting widespread use of email among more and more people with less and less computer literacy, email has become a double-edged communication tool. I feel that it often causes more agony than good to me.

What makes email as a more and more frustrating communication tool is not the fact that more and more people fail to follow email etiquette but the fact that they also fail to follow etiquette in general which is common to other settings of communication. There was a time when I waged a Quixotic fight against violators of email etiquette, including using plain text format instead of HTML format, bottom-quoting instead of top-quoting, to name just a few examples. But now I find myself fighting against those who have little or no etiquette of communication in general. Among what I consider the most serious violations of etiquette are failing to apologize for breaking your promise, failing to acknowledge receipt of something you asked someone else to send you, whether verbally or physically, and ignoring someone else's sincere questions (such as "Will you come to the next meeting you asked me to invite you to?") and remaining silent. I wonder how many days average users of email can wait for replies to their questions by email. My limit is three work days unless the person from whom I am expecting a response is on the go and has no Internet access. According to my experience, most of those who do not reply to me within three work days never reply to me. There are even those who ignore my repeated simple requests for confirming something that concerns them rather than me. The destiny of their email addresses is deletion from my email address book. ;-) I have to confess that I have a hard time with those who have no email address, but I have a much harder time with those who do have at least one email address but do not use it at all.

As of this writing, nearly half of my genuine questions of the above-mentioned type seem to be ignored, and my impression is that the percentage of these ignored questions is increasing steadily. I also realize a rather strong correlation between lack of etiquette of communication and the cultural background of my interlocutors by email; those with, e.g., the Japanese, Russian or American cultural background use email as a communication tool far more efficiently that those with the Israeli cultural background. Communication is possible only if there are two people. If the person with whom you are trying to communicate remains silent, email communication is impossible though in face-to-face communication silence can sometimes tell you volumes.

The main technical reason for this failure I can think of is the failure to use the email inbox wisely. One of the best ways to ensure unwise use of your inbox is to check your email with the web interface instead of using a mailer. I have realized that there already exist a whole generation of people who have never heard of a mailer and believe totally erroneously that the web interface is the only gateway to their email. Again according to my experience, people who check email on the web respond far less frequently and far less promptly than those who use a mailer. As far as I am concerned, my mailer (Thunderbird) is even more important than my browser (Firefox). If you check your email on the web, it is much easier to bury many important messages into oblivion without answering them. Another unwise use of the email inbox is not to keep it clean. As a number of experts in "getting things done" recommend, I always see to it that my email inbox is empty by the time I go to bed at night. I classify incoming messages by their importance and handle them accordingly, i.e., by answering them immediately, putting still empty replies to them in the drafts folder, or simply deleting them after or sometimes even without reading them.