Archive for July, 2019


July 31, 2019

There are a lot of things difficult about being a professor at a research-oriented university. But one benefit that this profession enjoys is clarity. How well or how poorly you’re doing as an academic researcher can be boiled down to a simple question: Are you publishing important papers? The answer to this question can even be quantified as a single number, such as the h-index: a formula, named for its inventor, Jorge Hirsch, that processes your publication and citation counts into a single value that approximates your impact on your field. In computer science, for example, an h-index score above 40 is difficult to achieve and once reached is considered the mark of a strong long-term career. On the other hand, if your h-index is in the single digits when your case goes up for tenure review, you’re probably in trouble. Google Scholar, a tool popular among academics for finding research papers, even calculates your h-index automatically so you can be reminded, multiple times per week, precisely where you stand.

Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

An alarming statistic on how much time emails and web browsing take out of our work

July 28, 2019

A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60% of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30% of a worker’s time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.

This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.

— The above comes from an awesome book that I am reading, titled Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

Don’t drink coffee, drink this instead

July 17, 2019

I kicked the coffee habit after learning what sleep does to the brain: The caffeine in coffee blocks sleep receptor cells in the brain, resulting in sleep problems. Poor sleep results in a whole host of well-documented health problems.

Of course, the thing that makes coffee so appealing is its ability to enhance alertness – it makes the brain think better! I recognized that and went in search of an alternative drink that would achieve (mostly) the same results. I found it. Here it is:

1 cup water

Juice from 1/2 lime

A few fresh mint leaves

A few fresh rosemary leaves

A few drops liquid stevia

Some ice

Put in blender and blend

Then add some seltzer to give it some bubbles


Here are the books I am reading this summer

July 16, 2019

This summer I have been fortunate to have stumbled across some wonderful books. Here’s what I am reading:

  1. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I enjoy reading books that challenge my beliefs, especially beliefs that I never consciously formed and were unconsciously inherited from my culture, family, and friends. This book does just that – it challenges a long-held belief. The book says, “Follow your passion” is bad advice. Wow! The whole book explains why. The author’s premise is that you master something, almost anything at all, and then you use that mastery to move you into a place where you can control your work. To have rare, valuable work you must have rare, valuable skills.
  2. Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker. Fascinating insights into sleep. See my last post. Every human needs to read this book.
  3. Cool Tools by Kevin Kelly. A large book containing interesting info about lots and lots of things. This is the kind of book that you open to any arbitrary page and learn something new.
  4. Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz. Here’s a neat story at the beginning of the book: Novelist Herman Wouk was doing research for a big novel he hoped to write about World War II, and he went to Caltech to interview physicists who had worked on the bomb, one of whom was Richard Feynman. After the interview, as they were parting, Feynman asked Wouk if he knew calculus. No, Wouk admitted, he didn’t. “You had better learn it,” said Feynman. “It’s the language God talks.”

What books are you reading this summer?

A few interesting things about sleep

July 13, 2019

I am reading an interesting book, titled Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker. I’d like to share with you a few things I learned.

  1. Inside your brain is something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It controls your circadian rhythm, that is, your sleep cycle.
  2. When you fly to a different time zone, the suprachiasmatic nucleus must readjust to the new night/day pattern. But it’s a slow process. For every day you are in a different time zone, your suprachiasmatic nucleus can only readjust by one hour. So, if you fly from the east coast to London (+5 hours) it will take your body 5 days to readjust.
  3. Scientists have studied airplane cabin crews who frequently fly on long-haul routes and have little chance to recover. Two alarming results have emerged. First, parts of their brains—specifically those related to learning and memory—had physically shrunk, suggesting the destruction of brain cells caused by the biological stress of time-zone travel. Second, their short-term memory was significantly impaired. They were considerably more forgetful than individuals of similar age and background who did not frequently travel through time zones. Other studies of pilots, cabin crew members, and shift workers have reported additionally disquieting consequences, including far higher rates of cancer and type 2 diabetes than the general population.

By sheer will power Richard Feynman turned himself into a genius

July 9, 2019

According to popular legend, Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, scored only slightly above IQ of 125 when he was tested in high school. In his memoirs, however, we find hints of how he rose from modest intelligence to genius, when he talks about his compulsion to tear down important papers and mathematical concepts until he could understand the concepts from the bottom up. It’s possible, in other words, that his amazing intellect was less about a gift from God and more about a dedication to deliberate practice.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

Should I keep my lawn grass long or short?

July 7, 2019

I would like to avoid watering my lawn. I hate the idea of dumping perfectly good drinking water onto my lawn. So, should I keep my lawn grass short or long? Below are arguments for each side. Which argument is correct?

Argument for Short Lawn Grass

Short lawn grass requires less water than long lawn grass because whatever water is present only has to hydrate short leaves.

Argument for Long Lawn Grass

Mowing it to keep it short might increase evaporation from the cut surface. A short lawn provides less shade for itself, and the soil can dry out more quickly, thus requiring MORE watering. If the grass is allowed to grow taller, the roots will be better established and penetrate deeper into the soil.  This will in turn make the grass more drought tolerant because during dry spells, there is likely to still be some moisture deeper down.