My Favorite Posts of 2013

The new year provides us a great opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done as we look forward to the year ahead. In that spirit, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve written this year and call out some of my favorite posts.

In order of their appearance:

Have a safe and happily holiday season. Here’s to the wonder and potential of a new year!

Time to Reflect and Reconnect

Step back and get in touch with the important things in your life.

One of my earliest memories of Christmas is looking over the back of an armchair, watching giant snowflakes fall through the glow of the street lamp. We had just come back from Christmas (Eve) dinner, where we dined on Grandma’s fine china. I was supposed to be going to bed, but everything was so still, so peaceful. I still love how quiet it gets when it’s snowing.

When I was a kid, it wasn’t hard to find quiet time by myself, but I didn’t appreciate how important it was, nor did I really know what to do with it.

With so much we need to do, we feel that we can’t take time to slow down and enjoy the scenery, let alone stop and rest. But the happiest, most successful people in life are those who have learned to preserve time for renewal in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

Photo courtesy of©iStockPhoto/maximkabb

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, 1865

The Parable of the Two-Dollar Chalk Mark

A little white “X” is worth more thank you think.

I recently spent the better part of a day looking into a bug. All the unit tests passed. The code looked correct. Everything should have been working. But it wasn’t.

Part of me was chagrinned that it took so long to track down what turned out to be a fix of less than one line. Sometimes, that’s just how it is, though. The fix itself is simple, but it can take a lot of time, resources, and hard work to isolate and identify the fix.

It reminded me of a parable my grandfather taught me. The Parable of the Two-Dollar Chalk Mark.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockPhoto/JLieberPhoto

Schrödinger’s Cat and Incoming Email

What’s Lurking in Your Inbox?

Schrödinger’s Cat is a classical thought experiment in quantum mechanics. A cat is placed into a bunker with an explosive charge that has a 50% chance of detonating in the next minute. At the end of the minute, the cat is in what quantum physicists call a superimposed state—it’s both alive and dead at the same time. We don’t know which it is until we open the bunker and check on the cat. At that point, nature chooses an outcome and determines the fate of the cat. (For more information, see the Wikipedia article or this YouTube video.)

Yes, quantum physicists get paid to sit around and think of these things.

Email arrives in your inbox in a similarly superimposed state. Until you process your incoming mail, you don’t know whether it’s something that deserves your attention or isn’t worth the keystroke that sends it to the trash.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockPhoto/dcdp

This process of classifying email (and other inputs) and discovering what you need to do is the princple behind Inbox Zero.

Live without Asterisks

Nothing undermines an accomplishment like a little star.

On September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run for the season, breaking his previous record of 59 runs set six years earlier. His record would stand until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61.

The problem was that Ruth scored his 60 runs in a 154-game season. After 154 games, Maris had hit only 59 home runs. But by 1961, the season had been extended to 162 games, and those eight extra games gave Maris the chance to hit two more homers.

The debate continued for years afterwards as to whether or not Maris had actually broken Ruth’s record. Sure, Maris had done something great, but Yankee traditionalists felt that the extended season was a mitigating circumstance, and Maris hadn’t actually done something as great as the Great Bambino.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockPhoto/33ft