Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Organized Mind

The Organized Mind

The Organized Mind

Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload Daniel J. Levitin

Everybody I know wants to live in an organized way. Everyone understands that being organized about one’s affairs reduces stress and creates more time for all the things we really want to do. Self-help books about simplifying and improving life through better organization are abundant and I could have read any one of them, but this is the one that I latched onto after seeing an interview with the author and being impressed by his thoughtful and helpful demeanor.

Daniel J. Levitin is a US academic, a psychologist and administrator who splits his working and living between Montreal and the San Francisco Bay area. Although the Organized Mind has an academic tone and is well-documented, it is easy to read, with diagrams, charts, stories and examples that help in moving the reader along. In addition to the body of the book, there is a very interesting Appendix in which he teaches us to build a fourfold table in order to easily calculate Bayesian probabilities, useful for making decisions about important events in our lives (e.g. decisions about medical choices). The Notes section, where all the references are gathered, is like a mini-book of its own, full of extra information and explanations.

Levitin explains that we all have so much information coming at us on a daily, if not hourly basis, that our brains become overloaded, making it difficult to focus, to remember, to sort out what and what is not important and to cope with all the complexity of our lives. He offers many helpful suggestions for coping:  e.g. by setting up systems, making use of systems already in existence, interpreting conversations, measuring importance, and externalizing information.

Most of us already use some of these coping tactics. We may already file receipts and medical information, for example, we may already understand the numbering system of US highways (this is explained in Chapter 9) and we probably always arrive at the grocery store with a list in hand, whether on paper or on a device.  What Levitin does is to stress the importance of these organizational techniques. One of the ways in which they are important really spoke to me. Our children are observers of our lives and behaviour and we have a responsibility to them to provide not only a good example, but to teach them to organize their lives, starting early in life, so that they will be able to cope in their school years and beyond, with the overload of information that we are all being dealt.

In the chapter on What to Teach Children: The Future of the Organized Mind, Levitin discusses Internet sources, both their benefits and their pitfalls, including Wikipedia, in a way that would be easy to share with kids. He tackles the pervasive problem of procrastination and shines a light on the importance of encouraging critical thinking processes from an early age. He gives examples of creative "guess-timating" with the use of knowledge about orders of magnitude that were very enlightening to me. He stresses the importance of nurturing the ability to think sideways. 

The chapter about making life/death decisions, an introduction to probabilities, was also interesting, though I’m not sure most of us would be able to remain that cool, calm and rational in the face of such an occurrence.

How to be organized in the business world would, I’m sure, be interesting and perhaps useful for some. I 'd like to know whether a person in information technology, for example, would take away any useful information or whether it would be just the opposite, that he/she would be able to expand upon such information or maybe even dismiss it entirely. I don’t have the background necessary to make that analysis. 

The Organized Mind stands out for me as a book that most people will find both interesting and useful. Parents of young kids in particular should have a look at it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Top Secret

Hilda sent this to me and it's so good I have to share it.

Top Secret Drum Corps is a precision drum corps based in Basel, Switzerland. With 25 drummers and colorguard members, the corps became famous for its demanding six-minute routine performed at the Edinburgh Tattoo in 2003. With its invitation to Edinburgh, Top Secret became one of the first non-military, non-British Commonwealth acts to perform on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle.

Since its success in 2003, Top Secret was invited to return to Edinburgh in 2006 with a new and improved routine. They were invited a third time in 2009 and again in 2012. Under the leadership of Erik Julliard, the band is also responsible for the founding of the Basel Tattoo, a military tattoo show similar to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, now held annually in Basel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Reflection

Ray Bartkus is a Lithuanian-born artist who lives in NYC. He's well known for his illustrations and covers for publications such as Harper's, the Wall Street Journal and Time. 

This time he has incorporated Lithuania's Šešupė River into a work of art, The mural looks odd at first, but if the water is calm and conditions are ideal, you can soon notice that the real work of art is reflected in the water. 

The photo above has been enhanced. Here is what we would probably see if we should come across it in our travels.

Here's the work in progress.

And the artist at work.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Impressions of Chicago

City mouse or country mouse? I'll always choose country, but...

                                                                               ... I love exploring new places and that includes cities.

Recently I was lucky to spend a few hot but awesome sunny July days in Chicago with my granddaughter. With input from friends and websites, 11-year old Kate and I saw and experienced city in the summer - architecture, art, sights, food, informative guides and other tourists from around the world. Also, a few line-ups (be warned: buy tickets ahead of time online if at all possible)

Both of our iPhone cameras were put to excellent use.

La Grand Jatte-1884, Georges Seurat

Woman, Joan Miró, 1934

The Old Guitarist, Pablo Picasso
from his Blue Period, 1903-4

Naum Gabo, Linear Constructions 1950's

Walking Man II, Alberto Giacometti, 1960

Jackson Pollock

Georgia O'Keefe

Our last day was spent at the Chicago Botanic Garden, an extensive property with many types of gardens and plants and a butterfly conservatory. Kate took all these awesome photos.