How to Diss-cember without losing your mind…

This is it. This is the last month of my intensive writing bootcamp to finish my dissertation. That was the reason why you have not seen any posts from me recently… I was busy. Busy with writing, reading, writing, planning my writing, … and nearly lost my mind on it.

The last phase of your PhD is the most exhaustive one in you career, trust me on that.

Oh, and it is December already, so, I have to get all my Christmas presents for my loved ones as well, next to finishing that dissertation.

But December also means candles, cookies, lights and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – and yes, I admit it, I LOVE that time of the year. The play on words “Diss-cember” is not that new, I know, but it totally seemd accurate for the first sunday in Advent. I even picked a nice image with a candle to provide you with some seasonal flair. 🙂 I hope you like it.

Here comes my list of how not to lose my mind – I hope it will help you, too:

  1. Make a plan.
    Okay, yeah, this is the most obvious thing, I guess.
  2. Stick to it, but be gentle with yourself.
    Allow yourself to miss some of your own deadlines. Calculate enough time spots for breaks. After all, you have to take good care of yourself, because you cannot afford to drop out for days or weeks beacuse of getting sick or ill or whatever stress can do to your body and mind.
  3. Ask for help and tell your friends about your last phase of writing.
    You may need some eyes to get through your text, doing corrections. I am just saying… I, myself, am perfectly unable to see my mistakes, and I want to thank all my dear test readers on this occasion for helping me with my corrections and revisions.
  4. Reward yourself when you finished a task or a bullet on your huge to-do-list. And YES, you have time for that, because you have your plan, right? 😉
  5. It’s allowed to shout, cry and being frustrated. This is actually called soul hygiene. It is allowed to say that you want to f*ck all this sh*t. Really, without such little controlled breakdowns you will harm yourself. I have them at least three times a week. If you are not working with Microsoft Word, there might be less occasions. 🙂 Sorry, not sorry.
  6. Celebrate your good days – good days are days where you get a lot of stuff done and can relax in the evening.
    This is also an opportunity to reward yourself with some self-care-stuff like watching a movie with a huge mug of hot chocolate on your couch. It is as simple as that. And it is so important, because you have to enjoy this feeling of being satisfied with your work.
  7. Be actually satisfied with your work.
    Yes, I know, I am a perfectionist myself and I am never ready to submit a paper, even if I had the time to review it at least three times. Therefore, tell one person about your good work and tell them that you need help to enjoy the feeling, too. Really, try it.
  8. Get fresh air and do some physical training.
    You need your body to be trained – and yes, just take a walk around the block, it’s 10 important minutes to get your mind clear again.
I am buried with books, in the middle of revisions and quotations still to check and verify, half through my writing plan, and highly desperate for the Christmas cookie season to start. (image: Pixabay)

Until now, everything just worked out fine for me. I try to keep moving, I try to stick to my plan and I try to be at least proud of me by doing so. Yes, the last thing is the actual hard work to do. I could spent another year on doing research, on writing, on reading, but: A good dissertation is a done dissertation.

There is a silver lining: I plan to submit my thesis in february at last. I am still good in time, I planned even a nice Christmas break and I am pretty sure to get enough work done to actually enjoy it without any bad conscience. 😉 And soon, I will have finished my good dissertation!

So, I am sorry that you have not heard from me and that I had no time to do any posts, but I guess you can forgive me. 😀

Have a very nice and not too stressful December, enjoy picking your presents for your loved ones, eat a lot of cookies and do not forget to celebrate the important things in life.

Stay tuned, dear fighters of academia!

See y’all,

Astrid

What to make of the Online Cult of ‘Ultra-learners’

Yet another post which always became a book review but ended up becoming a reflection! I really wanted to do something else, like a tutorial along the lines of “Transkribus for Dummies”, but since that’s already done and Scott H. Young’s Ultralearning popped up on my screen, I just had to review it. It has received praise from Cal Newport (Deep Work, So good they can’t ignore you & Digital Minimalism) and James Clear (Atomic Habits), two authors who are definitely among my inner circle of personal development books. And it also treats a subject which has fascinated me for a long time – Ultra learning. That is the art of ‘aggressive self-directed learning’. To early-modern-ize the title a little bit. (Yes, the fellowship left its marks, but I’d do it again any time!)

 

Preface to the Readers

But first, let’s not get carried away. I have a word of caution to go with this (a real review will follow some time later). Ultralearning is a book promising techniques for self-learning. That is, especially self-learning to reach ‘amazing’ spectacular results, like – of course -the author has achieved. This, in my opinion, is problematic. By putting all of this down on paper in a very ‘meta’ way, Scott H. Young epitomizes a whole generation of online ‘superlearners’ who market their own learning results. While the empowerment is great, this can also easily frustrate people: Especially imposter syndrome prone PhD students might end up feeling belittled by these marketers’ apparent lack of humility. So let’s get to it. And, if you haven’t already noticed, the theme of this post is ‘early modern’ 😉

 

Liber I: On Sensationalism

Since I myself have gone through a period of phdlife-induced imposter syndrome just now, I also wanted to point out that listing amazing feats like “Pass a Maths/Analysis one semester class in 10 days” can also end up frustrating people. Especially if you have high standards. After all, to do our position as a Humanities blog justice and put the critical into thinking, essentially, these so-called ultralearners do nothing but capitalize on sensationalism in the end. If we break it down to the roots. Which, I am sure, they don’t really want us to.

Just like extreme athletes have to break one breathtakingly crazy and dangerous world record after the other, ‘learning gurus’ on the internet will tell you about one crazy intellectual feat after the other. About how they ‘hacked’ skill XY. And you, as a dutiful Humanities person with sky-high standards, might end up feeling inferior because your definition of mastery is quite different from the goals they have set for themselves. You will know this and still feel inferior. You catch yourself wondering how it is that these people are able to learn all sorts of great skills with apparent ease in no time while you’re still not done with your thesis. It can’t be that hard, right? Wrong. Don’t let internet personalities pretending to be real-life superheroes make you feel like an idiot. After all, they earn money from making you feel like they are better than most others, regardless of their frequent assurances that “really anybody can (learn to) do what they did.”

 

Liber II: The Art of Marketing

This is a dangerous trap, one might say. So I can’t give a 100% positive review, because I dislike this tendency behind it all. Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis, Steve Pavlina and what all of their names are. They all fashion themselves as the greatest ‘meta-learners’ ever (self-fashioning also was a big thing in the early modern times, if you wanted to know. I happen to have read multiple papers about it over the last few days 😉 ). And, I get it. Meta-Learning is important. I totally acknowledge their achievement of making the public more aware of this. I was even deeply influenced by some of them. But at the same time, I can’t help but notice – in my capacity as your very Enlightened (with a big E) Humanist – that essentially, they don’t primarily learn to accomplish those amazing feats because they really want to learn them.

 

Liber III: Modern alchemy

The main outcome is that they make money from sensationalism, just like extreme athletes or any kinds of people who make money online nowadays. But that means that they don’t learn a skill to learn that skill, but rather: to blog about it. Because they make their living from that blog and the coaching business built around it. The skills they learn are sales proposals. Just like early modern alchemists would give sensationalist demonstrations of experiments and (some) tried to make people believe they knew how to make the philosopher’s stone and were perfectly able to reveal this secret to others.

Just like our ultra-learners do. This technique of promising greatness and riches taps into all those very human longings we can’t seem to shut off, even at a time when most of us don’t believe in the philosopher’s stone anymore. But in reality, we still do believe in it. Because we want to believe in it. We just call it differently and it comes in disguise. But essentially, it’s still the same thing all over again.

Conclusio: Redefining “success”

A big part of what they do is redefine “super-human success” and “mastery”, more or less achieve it and then sell to people the idea that they are not special: Everybody can achieve what they did and here’s how. (And input your credit card number below, of course). So, let’s have no doubt about that this is not only and not innocently about learning. Another component of their magnum opus pointing at this conclusion is the fact that they hardly choose boring projects. The projects they choose mostly also make for a great sales proposal, are apit to cause quite a stir, and yield the possibility of going viral &c. Alchemists sometimes did that, too.

 

These are my reflections for now 😉

Best,

S

Book review: Essentialism. Part II

A while ago, I wrote a book review on Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Today I wanted to follow up with a part II. “Why?” you might ask. I gave the book to my dad for his birthday (as an actual book this time). He loved it but when we talked about it, I noticed that he had remembered completely different things than I had. So I decided to listen to it again and this time, other things stuck with me. I always find that the really good books can be read millions of times and every time, you will find something you hadn’t previously noticed. Essentialism definitely is one of those books.

 

Essentialism is the disciplined pursuit of less but better

But what does ‘disciplined’ mean anyway? The author gives the following example: the normal state of the closet is to get more and more cluttered if a conscious effort is not made to get rid of non-essentials. Consciously making this effort over and over again is what he calls ‘disciplined’. You need to re-do it all the time even though you might feel like you just did it. But the clutter piles up again and everytime it does, you need to act even though you don’t want to. You need to know where the next thrift store is and when it’s open. You need to have a plan in case somebody drops off their clutter in your closet.

 

Do less than you want to do

This might be known to some of you as “Leave one in the bar” from working out. McKeown realized that it would be difficult keeping up a journaling habit every day because people tend to write more and more every day. This ends up making the habit harder every day and one day will come when you won’t stick to it anymore. So he asked himself how he could overcome this limitation. And he decided that the solution was to always do less than what you want to do. This helps to ‘keep the fire going’ and stops you from losing motivation.

I have this problem with my own routines, be it exercise or translating some of this Latin text every morning aside from my actual PhD writing. I tend to think “Well this went well today. I might just to two pages of translation tomorrow, then I’ll get done earlier.” But the text is 250 pages long. And after three days of translating two pages every morning, I lose motivation. Apart from the fact that two pages takes away enough energy that I am not very effective with my PhD writing anymore. I decided that I need to do less than I feel I could. That’s what makes it sustainable. I have been much more successful doing one page per day now. It’s for this reason that some ‘habit formation philosophies’ like Mini Habits (Steven Guise) or the Japanese Kai-Zen have become popular. In order to make it sustainable, do less than you could. This also goes for working hours, in my opinion, though I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me and is most sustainable.

 

Protect the asset and have more fun

This is kind of self-explanatory. But probably worth mentioning again here: One of the main reasons high-functioning people sabotage themselves is by not getting enough sleep and not taking time for fun, play and rest. For me personally, I have decided I need more active rest (=play/fun), not passive relaxation like binge-watching 😉 Otherwise, my work-life-balance project is going ok: I never work evenings anymore (at least until this week where I succumbed twice already) and I take one day off completely every weekend. However, without some more prioritization on what I work (not only taking into account how long), I feel that I am still not doing as well as I could.

Also, by the way, did you know that being tired and dehyrdated both reduces your brain capacities as much as being a little drunk constantly? It’s sound cheesy and simple: But I think we could all do with some more sleep and water. Also, getting enough rest helps you prioritize which is one of the most important skills ever in this busy world full of distractions. Which leads me to the next point:

 

What’s important right now?

If you don’t know what’s important right now, what’s important right now is to find out what’s important right now. This is my new credo at the moment. Over the last stressful weeks, I have noticed that the biggest factor in me sabotaging myself, except for procrastination probably, is not knowing what’s the most important thing and thus, wasting time on non-essentials. Your time and energy will be gone no matter what you do. Your dissertation will only get written by you writing your dissertation.

 

This is it for now. But actually, there were many more takeways, so I’l probably do a part III at some point 😉

Best,
S

 

(PhD) Life Wisdom Learned from Bouldering. Part I

At some point recently, us to Epigrammetrists were in the boulder gym bouldering and we realized that bouldering actually teaches you quite some insights for life. And not only life in general, but also the PhD life in particular. When I started typing the blogpost, however, I realized I had material for way more than just one single post. So you will get a little series now to which I’ll add every once in a while 😉

 

You don’t have to take bad holds

In life as in bouldering, we often feel obliged to take all the footholds, handholds, opportunities and possibilities we are offered. But in bouldering, at least on routes where there are more than enough holds, you always have the possibility to avoid some of them. Often, with bad holds just as with opportunities we feel we have to take but don’t feel comfortable with them, we don’t even realize that we have the possibility to just not take them. I often find that I can climb routes much better when I find a way of leaving out the dubious holds. Then I don’t need to be fearful about it and usually, you realize:

 

There is more than one possible path

There is more than one possible solution. In bouldering, this quickly becomes visible because people just tend to do the same climb in hundreds of different possible ways. But they don’t remember this in life. Also related:

 

You don’t need to reach the top the way the others did.

Getting inspiration is a good thing, of course. But often, we end up putting pressure on ourselves afterwards. Unlike in bouldering, in real life we often feel that we need to do it exactly the same way as the others. In bouldering, it quickly becomes obvious that we just have different strengths and prerequisites and thus, what works for someone else might not work for us. Then we just find another way. Maybe the other person is already at a higher skill level, is taller or has more strength – of course they can pull off other ways, even more elegant ways of doing things. But maybe you can’t. Then deal with it. Get over it. Remember you can find your own way. This is definitely something to apply to life.

 

Sometimes it’s a leap of faith

 

Sometimes all that is needed to succeed is for you to take that leap of faith. To trust in your ability. To just do it without worrying, maybe you even have to shut your brain off. When you hand in that paper, when you’re standing in front of that big audience to give your paper (maybe not so much then), or when you need to let go of both handholds so you have a chance at throwing yourself at the next one.

 

This is it for now. But there are many more bits of bouldering wisdom to come your way, so stay tuned 😉

Best,

S

R you ready for archaeological data?

Since I am trying to work myself into the use of programming with R and accomplishing my data analysis with this tool, I have struggled more than one time with the way of thinking “programmer-style”. As trained archaeologist I have practically no idea of the thoughts and ways to work with code.

You may know that really old joke when a programmer gets to do the food shopping and you tell him “Bring one package of milk, if they have eggs, bring 10.” So, the happy noob will head to the market and get one package of milk and 10 eggs. Programmers are used to a different kind of thinking – so they will bring you 10 packages of milk, because they see the condition for it: They have eggs in the store.

I am so grateful that there are no loops necessary in R programming. I tried it once for a course in C++ and it was… well, a decent catastrophe, but still, a catastrophe. I gave up in the end, after hearing most of my tech colleagues saying that an archaeologist has no need for programming. I might have answered that tech people have no need for history, and guess what, some of them really believe that. Because computer science is a modern thing. I did not tell them about the long history of cumputer science – that maths actually was a subject for women, because all man had to be philosophers. History is full of fun facts, my dear hardcore-tech-people, maybe you would like to try it sometime. (Forgive me the bitterness).

I still have to work and think hard on the analysis I want to do. I am not just heading for a simple quantitative analysis, I want to discover certain patterns of motiv combinations, considering the different samples of different temples and other finding spots – just naming one example of the questions I have for my data.

But, again, I had to start at the beginning, meaning cleaning my data. I had to think about naming my categories, about the facts I want to analyse. So, I once again found myself cursing my ex-computer science teacher at school, because we were girls and all he explained to us is not considered necessary knowledge for compter science at all. Well, if you call powerpoint and MS Word computer science, yes, we did that. It was back in the year 2005 and I am a victim of gender-biased teaching, I am afraid to say so. I am a girl, I am so talented in languages, and so interested in Latin, ergo I do not need any kind of technical knowledge. Or stuff like computer science, chemistry, physics, etc. Actually, I always thought, I am too dumb to do stuff like programming scripts for data analysis. Guess what – they made me believe that I am more talented to do other stuff like history and Latin. Maybe that is even true, but how can anybody be too dumb to use certain tools and methods for his or her work? It took me a  long time to figure this out.

I cannot imagine doing anything different than I am doing now – I love my job. I am used to people looking at me in a very bewildered wax, because I tend to say things like “I am not interested in people as long as they have not been dead for at least a 1500 years” and stuff like that. They are wondering why I am working with things like GIS and SFM and now programming languages, because old and dead stuff means… I don’t know, maybe they think, we are still using stone tablets to write on. A lot of people are very fast to ask questions like “Why would you need to learn computer science stuff? Why do you need geoinformation systems, I thought, you are analysing stones?”

I have stopped being angry about these kinds of questions. If some poeple cannot understand your way of working, then you have to do it anyway and maybe in the end they will get your intention when seeing the results. I figured out how to use R for an analysis of two categorial variables – meaning, I can show you now the distribution of motifs on the right and left side of stone altars in my geographical area of investigation.

Well, for a first try it does not look that bad… And there is more to come.

I have not found out everything yet – there is still a lot to do with the layout etc., but I have now found a way of basic understanding my data and a basic way of working with it.

I will present charts like that in my thesis and I love doing so. I will work on my 3D-skills and I will keep on trying new things with GIS software, no matter what.

I am doing all that stuff in my own way: When I have time, when I have my head free for this kind of task. Individualism is one great challenge when you are an archaeologist. Idealism is one mightier challenge and it is hitting me hard sometimes. But hey, I guess, I like it. More than I used to do.

R you ready for something new?

Stay fierce, dear fighters of academia – yours, Astrid 🙂

To err is human – to R is happy pirate noob

Okay, I have to admit it, I saw the quote “to err is human to arr is pirate” and I totally loved it first sight.

Then the love decided that I should try an introductional course in R – and suddenly I am here, writing about this 2-day-experience with a really catchy headline…

So. R. Some of you may know that this is a programming language, very used and beloved by data miners and statistic-geeks. For more information have a look here.

I am not going to do any tutorials on R or so, because I am still a total beginner – but a really happy noob, as you may know. I decided some months ago that the word “newbie” or “noob” is not a negative term for me – I am at the start of something new. So, this is just the beginning of a learning process, another one, because I am learning all my life. 😉

If you want to learn a new programming language, you might take a look to my dear Ninja’a blog on this, this and this blogpost concerning programming and learning programming languages (oh, there is even another one…).

First things first: NO, it is not easy. Learning a new language (no matte if spoken, dead, programming or fictional – now, do not tell me, you never tried Elvish or were fascinated by the Navi-language) is not easy, it takes a lot of time and practice and a lot of thinking and remembering and a lot of mistake-making.

I am currently finishing my dissertation – and it will be done by end of December, hear me!

And I have an amount of 432 objects in my Excel-file that I need to analyse. Okay, I could do it with Excel, BUT: there is a nicer way of building graphics and of analyzing a lot of data (I am really proud of resisting and not calling it “big data” 🙂 )

So, I just managed to combine all my relief motifs of different trees, plants, cornucopiae, sacrificial servants and so on and I ran my very first script with this new defined variables.

And I know, these things are just peanuts for every experienced programmer out there, but I guess for a 2-day-course I am quite successful.

I have to rush now, I need to go to a quite interesting talk – so forgive me for being so late with this post, but maybe I can please and entertain you in your coffee break on this nice monday with his litte blogpost.

Stay calm and keep going, my dear readers!

All the best,

Astrid (also known as the happy noob) 🙂

Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning

Since many of you enjoyed my post on procrastination, I thought I’d follow up with a tip already mentioned here in more detail. It’s her tip to not check your phone first thing in the morning. I have tried this and these are my experiences.

How to do this

I didn’t actively plan on actually implementing this tip. But when I woke up in the morning and was about to grab my phone for the usual checkup (which usually ends up taking much longer than the intended 2 minutes), I remembered Oakley had said to not do this but to first do 10 minutes of work instead. So I thought, I need to get through these bills anyway. And I did that. And I had the first achievement of my day. Then I checked my phone and still lost a lot of time.

10 minutes of productive work instead

Now this doesn’t work every day for me and I’m not enforcing it either. But this morning, I realized I broke the habit of having to check my phone first thing in the morning. I still do sometimes. But I don’t have to. And when I don’t all the effects she described really set in: you are primed for a productive day. After those inital 10 minutes of work, you often continue working because it’s so rewarding. And after the initial urge is past, I sometimes don’t feel the urge to check my phone for hours. This has downsides too, of course. Yesterday I didn’t know our first meeting had been canceled because I hadn’t checked my phone (or at least my work email) since after 5 pm the day before. It was a small setback in the moment. But it’s really a victory. I feel like I’m gaining back my freedom.

The “priming effect”

I also really feel like the “priming yourself for a productive day” thing really works. It’s easier to exercise willpower during the day or at least to overcome the barrier to start getting work done. It’s easier to resist the urge to check the phone. (In some situations I still want to procrastinate, of course, but hey – it’s ok to leave some improvement for tomorrow, right?)

It triggered a chain reaction of positive change

Sometimes things are urgent. But when they are, people tend to try to call you or reach you more aggressively anyway. So you won’t miss anything crucially important. But you gain a few good early morning hours where you can get work done. And after I got work done during the day, I feel that I don’t need to punish myself in the evening by working long hours or checking email constantly. This little mini-change actually triggered a chain reaction of positive change.

Next step: Write down todos the night before so your brain can pre-process them

Another one of those tips I more or less subconsciously implemented is to write up todos for the following day the night or evening before. This lets your brain work on it overnight and you’re more ready to get going the next day.

Maybe the next thing I implement will be to prepare my things for the next day or to tidy up before going to bed. I am really motivated to step up better routines right now 😉

Hope to pass on the motivation,

Best,
S

Fun with SFM – part II: The results

So, hello, dear all, I am back from a very busy family weekend – and I would like to entertain you now with our second part to our SFM-tutorial!

Due to my work at University, I have the opportunity to work with Agisoft Photoscan, which is quite the same as Agisoft Metashape. You can find all the information on this software here – I am very used to it, it is very easy to work with, very easy to understand and you hae all the features collected in one software. Of course, there are other softwares, even a lot of freeware for 3D modelling – I used to work with them as well and I think, the next step will be a comparison of the different softwares by modelling the same object. I am just looking for the time to do it, because: My dissertation has to be (okay, should be) finished by December… so, time is really rare in my life right now…

But this post is all about my little Eros/Amor riding his hippocampus. You can find the information on this example here in my first post.

I opened Agisoft Photoscan and loaded all the images I wanted to use meaning all the pictures I have taken. The first step is the aligning of the images. The software searches for the same points on different photos and matches them.

Step 1: Aligning the photos

Step 2: Building the point cloud

The next step will be the point cloud – of all the points that the software could match on different photos (the best thing is that you get the same point at least out of three different directions) there will be a so-called point cloud as a result. As you can see in the second pic here, there are a lot of “noises” around my object – you can barely recognize Amor’s foot an the tail of the hippocampus.  So, the next step is to clean this mess up. You just mark all the noises around your object and delete it. Another possibility is to mask your photos before aligning them and starting to build a point cloud. Either step will take its time.

In my first post I mentioned the different directions you have to take the pictures from. Here is a screenshot of all the thumbnails of my pics, just to help you geting an idea.

And again, the front view of my model, here already “meshed”.

So, after cleaning you will get a very nice point cloud showing just your object. I just took the side view of this sarcophagus, so my object remains quite flat with no other sides.

After the last step – the finished model!

In detail and without texture the model consists of a grid that connects all the points with each other and gives the actual shape of the surface.

After building the so-called dense point cloud (you may notice the features of the relief getting clearer), we can start with the last step – to build the actual model. As you can see here, I really tried quite hard with the texture as well. The texture can be build out of all the coloring information you have in your pics. This step is not necessary, if you are just interested in the shape of the surface. Therefore, you will get better results without coloring your model, because your eyes might get betrayed by all the shades and colors.

If you want something nice to show your students or your friends, then go for the texture. 😉

Of course there are further things to do on Agisoft Photoscan/Metashape or with other software – it’s a playground, so feel free to try. And remember, I took these images with my phone camera, so no pressure on that. Of course, your first tries may suck, but hey, it’s a process. I am still learning too and I am still discovering new fascinating features and possibilities.

I hope you enjoyed this little post – stay tuned, keep calm and start 3D modelling. 🙂

All the best,

Astrid

Devices and productivity on the go

Today I want to share some reflections on productivity on the go since I just returned from an archaeology and ancient history sailing excursion (inofficial) summer school (it was great and will probably happen again next year as an international summer school on “The Maritime Ancient World” or something, so watch out if you’re interested). The point is that on and before the trip I was, of course, confronted with a difficult choice: Should I bring work devices at all and if yes, which ones are best?

You should not bring productivity devices to your time off at all

First of all, I probably shoulnd’t have brought any device. I had a tablet (my old Lenovo Yoga Tab 2) but I hardly used it – thankfully. I had only brought it in the first place because I hadn’t finished this article, which I ended up not finishing anyway. So that was actually a success, work-life-balance-wise. But on the return journey, I spent a few hours on the bus web browsing options for productivity devices which are suitable for situations where you don’t want to bring the laptop (like on a sailing boat).

But if you really have to, these are my requirements

A device like this should be small and portable, but also not too expensive since I really don’t use it except on holiday. It should comfortably allow you to work effectively in a moment of need (command line utilities and LaTeX inevitably needed for that; also decent RAM).

I am generally a very non-tablet kind of person. I think tablets cannot be used for productivity. I am probably not your average user, but I really want a commandline, LaTeX and some computing power, even on the go. I don’t need Microsoft Word (Learn how you can live happily ever after without it here). On the other hand, I don’t really want apps which I find to be generally very un-usable and non-productive things. A fully functional keyboard is absolutely necessary but since I have small hands, I am much less picky with keyboards than most people.

Also, since I have migrated to Linux completely (by now actually that long ago that I can officially say “years ago”), I ever since am less and less able to tolerate anything else. Insisting on Linux really massively reduces your choices on the mini netbook or ultra-mobile pc (umpc) market. However, on the umpc market, Linux alternatives seem to be taking off recently, so maybe this won’t be an issue anymore a year from now.

But at the moment, most tablets firstly don’t even have a “desktop mode” at all (thus only apps) and secondly, if they do, don’t have a Linux option. Such as my Lenovo Yoga Tab 2 where the keyboard only works with Windowds which is becoming less and less acceptable for me. Of course you can always just install Linux, but tablet-like devices have so many features (like touch screens and stylus support, etc.) that you really miss out on half of the features and I am not really willing to pay for tons of features which I can’t even use. So that makes things kind of complicated.

 

What I found

Despite my non-conventional needs, I have found some possibly interesting options which I wanted to make you aware of. Also, if you are interested in small netbooks or mini ultra-mobile pcs (umpcs), Liliputing generally is a great resource to find reviews of mini computers. They are available as blogs as well as on Youtube.

Many Kickstarter projects feature such mini computers. However, the problem with Kickstarter is that projects might not end up working out, there are huge delays in delivery and you don’t know if there will be any customer support later when the product prematurely exhales its last breath. But if you’re in for cool products which not everybody has and don’t need one delivered to you rightaway, like me, you might consider keeping an eye open on Kickstarter.

Since I am only really interested in products which feature a native Linux option, I will not go into detail with Windows ones. If you are ok with Windows, congratulations, there are many more interesting products out there for you.

The Gemini PDA

The Gemini PDA Android & Linux keyboard mobile device is meant as a smartphone with a keyboard and comes in Android or Debian. However, Debian is supposed to be patchy and it doesn’t really work well for the intended use. The keyboard is too wobbly to be really productive (according to my extensive review research). It looked really promising at first, so I was a bit disappointed by the mediocre reviews.

The Topjoy Falcon

The Topjoy Falcon seemed perfect to me but I missed the Kickstarter campaign and you currently can’t buy it regularly. Also, a general problem with cool gadgets coming out of Kickstarter projects: If they do take off and lead to a regular production, the post-Kickstarter prices are so high that the product really isn’t all that attractice anymore. (Remember, I wanted a relatively non-expensive product for holiday use only.) This sadly is the case with most Kickstarter tec gadgets. But it also features Ubuntu.

 

GPD products

The Chinese GPD company specializes in ultra-mobiles devices. They are much smaller than what you regularly would get because they specialize in this niche.

They have the GPD Pocket 2, the MicroPC (like a 6 inch toughbook), a new ultra-book project going on (GPD P2 Max) and a range of gaming devices. They have a history of successful Kickstarter projects and the prices are great when you get it from a running campaign. The only downside, in my view, is that they aren’t exactly cheap anymore in the regular price and then again, it’s a risk buying from a smaller, less established brand (possibly less customer support, etc.).

They usually release and ship with Windows 10 but they collaborate with Ubuntu Mate for UMPC, so a customized Linux version becomes available shortly later. Which, personally I think, is pretty damn awesome.

Lenovo Yoga Tablets

This is also more like an honourable mention. As I said, I still have a Lenovo Yoga 2 Tab from my pre-Linux era a few years ago. It’s nice and all but the keyboard – which is the essential part for me if it’s supposed to be a productivity device – only works with Windows. (Also, not that I have tried with anything else because I really just want a new device right now.) 

But it’s actually quite a cool product. The bigger one has a beamer function included which might come in handy at some point. I still use mine for watching films sometimes. And I am a big fan of Lenovo. It’s a bit sad that they don’t offer a great Linux umpc. I would totally get that. 

Honourable mention: Paper tablets

ReMarkable

It’s not a netbook, it’s not a tablet either and it’s also way too costly if you’re not going to use it regularly, but I just love the ReMarkable paper tablet. I have never owned it myself but I have tried it out and found it quite awesome. You can use it to read and annotate PDFs, take notes or even make drawings. However, people also have some criticisms on the software and it’s really quite an investment (around 400-600€ depending on whether you can get a special offer). Paper tablets are interesting for academia people because classic ebook readers aren’t great for PDFs but papers mostly come in PDF form. Many colleagues use ‘normal’ tablets for this exact purpose, but that’s another screen your tired eyes have to look into. When I work a lot and want to get reading done, I am usually quite glad to not have to stare into another screen. Also, there’s the thing that the blue light wakes you up at night, etc. etc. etc. So the ReMarkable doesn’t have as many features as a tablet, but in harmony with the Digital Minimalsim principle of non-multipurposing, it thereby also comes with many less temptations for drifting off.

E-Pad

Also, during my research for going more digitally minimalist, I came across the E-Pad 10.3″ E-Ink Android Tablet & eReader with Pen (also a Kickstarter thing) and it sounds really good. But I actually has apps which was a reason for me to reject it at the time since I didn’t want to many options for distraction. Now, looking back, it doesn’t seem so bad though. (I found this review really interesting. A plus is that it as access to full Android and not a proprietary system.)

 

Conclusion

So, that was it for now. It maybe wasn’t an overview over the more common products. But then again, you can get that from somewhere else. Maybe this was helpful to some of you.

Best,

S

 

Procrastination and the PhD life

For once, this is not a book review. At least not really because I will discuss some concepts I read in Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, NY 2014. The book’s about how to learn more effectively in math and science and I thought it might help me learn new computer science concepts more quickly. But it’s really a book highly recommended for anyone. It’s a book about learning how to learn, about how to master procrastination and your work process. Highly relevant to the PhD life, obviously, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on it with you 😉

 

Defining the problem

Well, where to start? We all know what procrastination is, of course. The idea of having to start a task we find daunting, our brain lights up with pain. Procrastination offers a quick relief. It doesn’t seem too harmful in small doses but, like Arsenic, if consumed in excess the consequences are not fun.

Interestingly, for the most part of my life, I have never had a single issue with procrastination. It’s not that I had never felt the need to procrastinate. But during my schooling, I found most classes utterly boring and useless. So I ‘procrastinated’ on paying attention by completing other boring tasks which were dull but didn’t require a lot of focus. That way, I hardly ever had to do any stupid homework at home. By completing all my homework in class, I never even had to use my willpower at home and had enough left to focus it on the important stuff.

Even during my university studies, this method still worked, because sadly, I still found myself in a situation were most classes were shit and a waste of time, to be quite plain. So I did my homework, assignments, research for seminar papers and even some paper writing during boring lessons. At home, I had a consistent routine of spending 1-3 hours in the morning on some deep work and learning, for example like practice for Latin grammar, learning Ancient Greek and the like.

Having read some of Oakley’s tips now, this sounds like it was a freaking great idea because not only did it work really well, it also fits quite well with the learning theory (apart from the fact that you should avoid multitasking, but then again, I’ve never been a greater follower of rules, to quote Dumbledore from Crimes of Grindelwald on the matter).

 

The anxiety and procrastination inducing PhD life

But didn’t I just claim that we all know procrastination all too well and then followed up with how I never had a problem with it? Well, not thus far. For me, problems with procrastination only started once I started work and thesis writing. Now that I didn’t have frequent classes anymore I had to show up for, I lacked the hours to get those boring tasks done. Nobody controlled if I showed up for my work as long as it got done somehow. Also, had I not felt so well one day when I still used to ‘procrastinate’ during class, I could just sit there and do nothing while still “getting something done” in the way that I at least completed my attendance to the class.

Before, if I didn’t do anything, class still progressed. Now, when I didn’t do anything, nothing would get done. Also, tasks used to be much smaller than “Complete PhD thesis”. Even if you divide that one in smaller tasks, it’s still huge and daunting, there is no way around that. And all of a sudden, I had those bursts of anxiety related to procrastination. In the good old days where there was no procrastination issue in my life, I was so much less stressed. (It’s actually proven that procrastination causes stress and takes at least as much time and energy than just doing what needs to get done.)

We procrastinate on things that make us feel uncomfortable. […] The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself.

This has been going on at least since 2016 in my life but it seems to have been a mystery to me until I read Oakley’s book today. I haven’t really found the cure to my own newly discovered procrastination problem yet, but I wanted to share some tips Oakley provides in her book.

Don’t let your procrastination habit get the best of you

First of all, procrastination is extremely detrimental if you have big tasks ahead of you which require deep work and understanding, such as learning math (Oakley’s example) or writing that great peer-reviewed paper. If you ever only cram at the last minute, your brain has no time to form any firm connections, leaving you with superficial only. Not good.

First things first. Unlike procrastination, which is easy to fall into, willpower is hard to come by because it uses a lot of neural resources. This means that the last thing you want to do in tackling procrastination is to go around spraying willpower on it like it’s cheap air freshener.

  1. Use the Pomodoro technique (25min timed work sprint without distraction, reward and break after each session). Working on a little time constraint also has the added benefit of teaching you to function under pressure.
  2. Train ignoring distractions like you would work on meditation. In meditation, it’s all about recognizing a thought and actively deciding to discard it. Applied to procrastination, that means that you need to first become aware when the impulse to procrastinate comes in (not always easy!), then train yourself to ignore it.
  3. Use this little “digital minimalism” challenge to practice: When you notice the urge to open social media, don’t. Acknowledge the impulse, maybe reflect why you had it and what the reward from it would be (are you expecting a mesage or just want to avoid working?), come up with a way of substituting the reward or delay the gratification (“I’ll work another Pomodoro, then I can have a social media break as a reward”).
  4. Don’t “reward” yourself with a bad habit when you haven’t done anything to deserve it. This is easier said than done, especially if the habit is already automatic. Then the first step is to un-automate it and re-route your reaction to the cue which usually triggers your routine habit behaviour. This new reaction, however, still needs to be rewarding or you won’t go through with it in the long run.
  5. Oakley suggests to stop yourself from checking your phone first thing in the morning and to set a timer for 10 minutes of work instead. This little willpower training will “prime you” to make better choices during the day. Other people also say that unlearning the snooze habit is really important. However, I feel that I don’t have a problem with snooze when I’m truly motivated. I only it do when I really dread the day.
  6. Only apply willpower to your reaction to the cue. 
  7. You are bound to fail sometimes. We all fail sometimes. Learn to control your reaction to failures. Have a plan B for when they happen and, most importantly, failures are a necessary part of the learning process, not an indicator that you’re incompetent or unable to get things done.
  8. If you want to be kept from your digital devices, give them to somebody to watch over during your pomodoro timers.

 

Leverage all the external factors you can get

Social pressure can be an effective means against procrastination. For example, I sometimes procrastinate on climbs I am a bit afraid of and never finsih them, thinking I can’t do them. Once in the last month, for example, I brought a fellow fellow to climbing and she watched me do my current ‘final opponent’ boulder which had eluded me for weeks and countless attempts. With a colleague watching, I did it on the first attempt.

Turns out all I needed was that little social pressure and encouragement to pull through. I’d probably had that one in me for weeks and only couldn’t do it because I bailed out of it again and again. So these tips are even valid for climbing: When you think you can’t do it, hang on just a little bit longer. Always train until you actually fall (hint: most times, you probably won’t at all, even though you dread you might) or you’ll never use your full capacities and won’t progress. If you never try, you’ll never know. Overcome procrastination now 😀

To rewire your reaction to a trigger, try developing a new ritual. In the case of procrastination, this rewiring is sometimes called learned industriousness.

Meeting times or even lunch dates can be used as mini-deadlines to push your productivity. I always find I get the most productive shortly before I have to be somewhere because I’m trying to cram in just a little more, to get just that little other thing done. This is quite effective productivity-wise, but also the reason I am notoriously late. Not a good habit either. But it was helpful to read Oakley’s tips to understand this behaviour for what it really was for once: a mini-deadline-driven productivity burst.

Remember, habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.

Identify cues which trigger routine behaviours. Try avoiding the cue alltogether, if possible, or if you have to. Or try to change your reaction to the cue. How does your old habit serve you or how did it serve you when you first started doing it? Is that even something you still need? Does it still serve you? Can you substitue the rewards or tweak it in any way, if possible, without resorting to require willpower? If you resort to willpower too much, you will ultimately give in to distraction and temptation in a high-stress moment of weakness. So try to build a system which doesn’t rely on it, making it anti-fragile to high stress situations (which are bound to occur).

Process, not Product

I’ve never really had a snooze issue on excavation days. And for good reason: Excavating is about the process, not the product. You don’t know what’s going to come out of the ground (well, more or less, but you know what I mean), so you just show up for work. That’s another main concept from the book. And it might be the solution to my work-related procrastination problem. Focus on the process, show up for your timer, don’t focus on the product or on which outcomes are due. This is probably the main problem I have with procrastination at work. I look at the to do list, see all the products and outcomes it asks for and I end up paralyzed. Had I just sat down for two hours, like I would have during a boring class, the most daunting thing would probably already be done. So that’s my homework for now. I will practice to not let myself think about the product. It’s the product which triggers the pain causing us to procrastinate, so get the product out of your head. The process itself is not daunting.

When we think about a daunting task, pain centers in the brain fire up. Shifting your focus to something more pleasant (i.e. procrastination), makes you feel better temporarily. In that way, it is like a drug addiction. Like with any addiction, you start telling yourself stories to explain it away. But in the long term, this bad habit is going to slap you in the face: Procrastinators have worse health, lower grades and report higher stress levels. So apart from the fact that dreading a task instead of doing it takes more time and energy than to actually do the task, it causes even more stress leaving you feeling even more incapable of getting things done. The vicious circle continues and spirals out of control. Sometimes, procrastinating and then still finishing right before the deadline can make you feel high and invincible. Just like the thrill in gambling or other bad habits which feel good only in the short term.

When you’re on auto-pilot during a habit or routine activity, it’s like zombie mode. You don’t make decisions which can be good because it saves energy. However, you need to monitor your habits very closely and make sure they serve you rather than destroy you. Because what you do every day accumulates, you become the product of what you do every day and if that’s procrastination, you might end up with a result you don’t like. Well, there would be even more info in the book but I’m not done with all of it yet and the post is already too long again.

So, that’s it for now, (might follow up)

all the best,

S

Fun with SFM – Part I: taking pictures

So, welcome to our first tutorial on SFM – structure from motion to get a 3D model of your favourite object. In our case, due to our name “Epigrammetry” which combines Epigraphy and Photogrammetry, we would like to start with a stone. Actually not just a stone, it is one side of a sarcophagus placed outside the church of San Canzian d’Isonzo in Italy. I choose this example because I do not need any permission for taking pictures there – and using those pictures for our turorials online.

If you would like to follow our instructions and you have choosen a certain object for it, please always make sure that you are allowed to take pictures and to use them. In most cases, you are allowed to photograph objects, but you are not allowed to show your results online or to publish them, so this is the tricky thing you have to be aware of.

In this first part we will concentrate on taking pictures for your model. You will not need a high professional camera – use your smartphone, because this is enough to start with the basics and getting a feeling of the process.

1. The light – when taking pictures, always consider the light!
Is it sunny, is it cloudy, has your object any shining surfaces? For 3D modelling, all this things are important.
The best weather – if your object is placed outside, like mine is – is actually a cloudy day. The light will be consistent on your object and this will give you the best results, especially if considering the texture (the colours of your real object that you want also on your model). If there are some too dark spots, your camera may not be able to handle them, so it is lost for the software, because you cannot get any points out of it.

2. Keep about the same distance to your object – at least try! I know, this can be sometimes really difficult, but your results will be better. Also, try to keep exposure and focal length the same while taking your pics. And you will have to do a lot of them. For our example here, I took about 70, which is okay for a very rough model, but a quite good one.

3. Move! You have to move the camera. By this, I mean you have to take your pics step by step. Always let about 60% to 80% of your pics overlap and never stand still an just turn the camera in different directions. At least, if you annot move your feet, move your torso and the camera to another position. Yes, this can be very funny for your spectators. 😉
So, just keep in mind: Overlapping and moving!

3a. If you have a small object and you want to get every side, never move the object! It won’t work! You will confuse the software. If you have to move the object, you have to do different models of every side and then you have to bring them together with the help of Meshlab or whatever program you want to use.

4. Try to get every pic of your object out of at least three positions. Help yourself by following the surface of your object with your movements – at least, this works out for me and the stone reliefs. For a frontal and flat object, try to take pics from different positions and angles.

5. Keep a list. If you have to take a lot of pics for different models, keep a list of your pictures by writing down their numbers in line, the object, the side, the date. You will definitely get confused, trust me. 😉

6. Always do a back-up. And yes, please, save your data immediately! Do a back-up. You know why. 🙂

Of course there are other very good tutorials on photogrammetry 101 on the Internet and I myself learned a lot by reading and watching them.

We will catch up with our little project when I am back from my holiday!

Stay fierce!

Astrid

Bouldering Braunschweig II – at Fliegerhalle

Dear epigrammetrists,

it’s time for another post about bouldering in Braunschweig. As you already know, I spent my summer on a fellowship at Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel and went bouldering in Braunschweig. The first month was spent at Aloha, the second one at Fliegerhalle. You already got a long-term (4 week) review of total immersion at Aloha. Now you get a review of Fliegerhalle (a bit less extensive though). This means that I got two of three bouldering spots of Braunschweig done (the other one would have been Greifhalle).  Yay to that.

The Review

In the case of Fliegerhalle, I don’t have as many little criticisms as for Aloha. I was a bit more expensive for the one-month-ticket but just a few euros. These were totally worth it seeing as Fliegerhalle held many less struggles for me. Fliegerhalle felt a lot like our home base (Boulderclub Graz). The difficulty is labelled white – yellow – green – blue – and a few really difficult ones. A fun thing is that there are purple boulders with the “joker” level which means that they could be insanely diffcult or somewhere middle range. I’d say they were between a difficult yellow and an easy blue one. They never required the technique of a blue one, but had some quite tricky spots.

Compared to Graz, white is a bit more easy than Graz’s yellow, thus yellow and green at Fliegerhalle are also a bit less difficult than Graz’s green and blue. However, I felt that this discrepancy in difficulty levels was kind of levelled out at the green stage. There were some easy ones, but the range was quite big. This is probably necessary because Graz has many more distinctions for very difficult levels (purple, red, white, black) whereas, I think, Fliegerhalle has only red and black after the blue one but red and black are extremely rare, so difficult green to blue covers quite a big range of difficulty. And that is not only difficulty by the end of the green range, but also a somewhat sudden onset of high technique requirements.

I, as a relative newbie, progressed to the difficult green ones quite quickly, but then there were some green ones left which were much too difficult. The blue ones all had hardly anything to grip or were slopers, etc. All required techniques I had never used, so I was quite unsure who to overcome this plateau – the easy to middle range green ones had become too easy, but the more difficult ones were sometimes that much out of my range that they discouraged me rather than motivating me. However, I had this same whiny complaining for Aloha, so maybe the problem is me and not the boulder gyms 😉

Transitioning from good beginner to a really advanced boulderer in a a short amount of time is probably bound to end like this. Since I just don’t have tons of experience, I maybe just didn’t give it enough time to acquire new techniques. This is a good thing about Fliegerhalle by the way: They sometimes offer quite easy green boulders which can be used to learn a new technique. The only difficulty will be mastering this spot where the new technique is needed, for example a dyno jump from the floor and then the route is basically over. This is a great idea. If these new things were included in a route which is already challenging to me otherwise, I can’t practice the new skill in isolation. So thumbs up to Fliegerhalle for that!

I also went top-roping with a fellow fellow two times which was good fun. The staff were really nice and helped us out a lot since we both had done toprope at some point before, but like 5 years ago, so a refreshing was in order.  Fliegerhalle, I take it, is also liked by many regulars because it has a nice café. You can sit outside in the summer. There even is a ‘bouldering mushroom’ to boulder outside, also a tower for lead.

The shower rooms are nice, but here – to my dismay – there is nowhere to lock away your valuables. You have to leave them close by and hope there are no longfingers around. So better try to bring as few valuables as possible. The lack of locked storage is, I might say, the only real drawback about Fliegerhalle, if you ask me. I also lost my chalk bag at one point at Fliegerhalle and it was found again after a few weeks which was nice for me, of course. Also speaks for the institution, I think.

On the top level, there is a nice workout area with hangboards and rings. Not quite as nice as the whole gym room in Graz, but quite nice. I really like the rings as well and the fact that it’s on a separate floor, so you don’t have 50 bystanders watching you as you labour on the hangboard 😉 They had some workout equipment at Aloha as well (which I think I forgot to mention), but it was all in the same hall as everything else. I prefer the workout area to provide a little bit of privacy. You don’t want to publicly make a fool of yourself as a beginner.

My last weeks and coming home

On the personal side: I think I will take a little break from bouldering for a few weeks. I made great progress over my summer “training camp” here, but I also got a cold over the last weeks (which still doesn’t go away and has gone one for 2-3 weeks now). I think I am possibly a bit overworked by now, so as much as I loved Wolfenbüttel and my early modernist mafia (whom I will miss so much!), I am also looking forward to coming back to Graz now.

With bouldering, I think I overdid it a little towards the end and put too much pressure on myself to keep up the crazy progress I had made. Which probably just isn’t possible once you’re not a complete beginner anymore. So I gathered from a few Youtube tutorials that a 2 week break can do wonders. Your specific bouldering muscles will be all but gone, of course, but muscles come back again in two weeks. Sometimes these weeks off can be just what your brain needs to process the new techniques learned and you’ll “click” afterwards. I’m hoping for the best, anyway 😉

If you’re a PhD student and thinking about applying for a fellowship, absolutely do it. You will have much more calm and time to get actual reading in writing done when somewhere else. Very advisable and it’ll look good on your CV to have a fellowship and possibly a stipend for it to show for.

So that was it, hope it was helpful.

Best,

S

How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part III: Social life

Welcome to part III of our selfcare-series and I decided this time to write about social life, because I am a few days away of going on a long holiday. I definitely need a break and I really need to do this. And yes, there is still a lot of work to do – there is still a thesis that wants to be written.

But let me begin with… well, with us. We are all human beings. Human beings are social beings. Actually, this is very simple and logical and necessary for our survival – but, yes, you must have time for being social, espescially while trying to achive things like a PhD.

There are for sure some periods of your writing and thesis finishing phase where you are very anti-social and love everything about this kind of life. However, you may know that we cannot survive without social contacts and you may know that there are a lot of people who love you and who want to be part of your life because they care for you.

I have mentioned it before: the problem with your time. But you might remember part I and part II of our selfcare series – you have to plan your time carefully and you have to build up some routines. I am sorry to say this, but yes, you will sometimes need to make clear that your first priority is in fact work and your thesis – but that doesn’t make you a bad friend or a bad son/daughter/whatever. Some people will not understand it, I know this from my own experiences. Sometimes, this may be the case because they have no idea what you are actually working on and why it is so time consuming. Sometimes, it may be because they are not so interested in your life – we know these kind of people as toxic people and no, they are no good and you should not listen to them. Seriously, DON’T you ever let anybody tell you that you are a bad person because you are keeping your priorities fixed on your academic career. You need balance, and balance means that you have to say “no” to some social events. And you know, people who love you will understand.

But how to get that balance? Sometimes you cannot say “no”, because you should absolutely not. Like, birthday parties, visiting your grandparents or parents, vacation with friends, … some things are important for your well-being. The tricky thing is to know how to handle the huge amount of things that seem important.

You have to plan your time and you have to talk to your friends and your family about these things. They must know that you cannot be a spontaneous person for some years. And they love you and they will understand it and encourage you. The same thing works with you being good to yourself and allowing yourself to go on a holiday and getting some fresh air. And fresh thoughts, because your brain needs to relax.

So, the important thing I want to tell you in this post is: You have to be good to yourself. And this is really hard work, trust me. There is this toxic academic background: We are used to a huge workload and of course we will work night and day, we have to publish and doing research, we have to attend conferences and so on.

I can tell you a lot about this feeling, the terrible imposter syndrome – and the people who are always asking where you are going – at 5 pm, because they are still working and how can you possibly go home?

You can read about this academic overwork on all social media platforms. We are the new generation of academia. And what does this new generation mean? It means that we have a chance to change the system – at least a little bit. If all of us try to be good to ourselves, if all of us admit that taking a break, spending time with family and friends is totally normal, because we are social beings. Let overwork not be your guide in this jungle we call academia. Talk with your colleagues about it. Talk with your loved ones. Create a good environment of people who know how hard our world can be – and let them help you in reverse to never let go of the important things in life.

This advice does not mean that people who love to be all alone and love their work should stop working. I know these phases myself. There are times – months, sometimes only weeks – that I spend nearly alone, with my material and my research. I simply don’t like people in this phase. And then, when I am done, I will get back to normal.

And there are times that like to spend with my loved ones. And sometimes I do this with a real bad conscience – I should be writing/reading/… and instead I am eating the third slice of cake of my love’s grandma, having a blast at the barbecue party in her garden.

One day, I will remember this. I will never ever remember the days and hours locked up in my office with my research. I am proud of my work when it is done. But I remember the stories, the talks, the laughter, and for this I need real people.

So, next time you have the birthdayparty of your mum coming up – just drive home earlier that day. Surprise her. Or your love spends the day cooking for you – join him or her. Cook together, laugh together. And the day after you will start again, refreshed and relaxed – and in a very good mood. And being a happy academic you will do research happily. And happy research leds to happy ideas. And happy academic ideas lead to good work.

That’s it – be good to yourself, take a break and by the way, you are such a good looking person, you have it all, the intelligence, the wit, the spirit. You deserve a break. Go, get it!

See you all when my holiday is over. 😉

(Yes, I will struggle to get back, because … I mean, we are heading to Sardinia, you know – sea, sunset, the food! But yes, I will come back. After all… I have a date with this thesis.)

Book Review: So good they can’t ignore you

When I first read the title of this book, I rejected it immediately. Only after I had become a fan of Cal Newport’s having read his Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, I went back for it. I loved it immediately. It really isn’t what the title makes you expect at all. Rather than a quick fix “you can do it” narrative, Newport stresses how some pretty unspectacular things, like hard work and skill, will make you successful.

This review sums up some of the main arguements and tips while trying to adapt them for the academic field. Because this book, unlike the later works of Cal Newport doesn’t contain frequent references to Academia and it’s not always obvious how an Academic can implement those very ‘market-oriented’ tips.

The craftsman mindset

The most important concept of the book is the ‘craftsman mindset’, a mindset opposed to the ‘passion hypothesis’. That is the idea that you should go for a job you are passionate about. If only you bring the passion and motivation, you will succeed. The most imporant point of Newport’s is probably, that this is the most stupid idea ever. Because, contrary to this optimistic new-age rhetoric, motivation alone will get you nowhere without skill.

Newport systematically investigated what approaches successful people had to their success and work, and also interviewed some believers in the ‘passion hypothesis’ who failed. In all his examples, those who had fallen for the passion hypothesis went on to make some truly horrible business decisions. Like start a freelance yoga business after a four week crash course to become a yoga teacher. And ended up out of work not much later.

Newport’s argument is that this happened because the ‘passion hypothesis’ just doesn’t work and you won’t get anywhere on happy thoughts alone. I think this is an essential thing to realize in Academia as well. People will hire you because you contribute rare skill and a hard-working mindset. Not because you have fascinating dreams. Academia rewards results, not effort or motivation. Nobody cares if you’re more motivated than your competitors unless this motivation is a driver for more actual results.

Newport shows examples of hugely successful people who approach their job like a craft. They show up for hours and hours of practice. They do ‘deliberate practice’, that is to say strategically look for imperfections and eliminate them. Like, say, a professional musician would approach daily practice. This is what he means by “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

 

Control traps

Newport then mentions something he calls ‘control traps’, that means things which can go wrong when you want to take more control over your life. Like mentioned before, you need skills before you can make big steps. So before making a bid for control, acquire career capital. No bold, premature bids for freedom. People from the ‘Lifestyle designer’ community often go for freedom without skill and thus, fail. When interviewing all the ‘overnight successes’, it mostly turns out that many years of skill honing actually led up to this ‘sudden success’, so it really wasn’t all that sudden after all.

But once you have the skills, your boss will naturally try to hold you back from independence because you will have become too valuable. What makes your life better no longer benefits your boss, so they will hold you back. In Academia this might mean that a boss will give you lots of nice projects because they know you will do the job well. But none of those projects are probably high value enough to really advance or kick-start your career. To do this, you would have to move away, apply for a high-profile job or something. Once you don’t need your boss anymore, you’re ready and valuable, so there will be resistance when you try to leave for a new opportunity. Once you have enough skills, finding clients, or in our case, job opportunities, should be no problem.

Law of financial viability

Newport also brings up the ‘law of financial viability’. That is to mean that you should do what people are willing to pay for. Don’t switch to a new occupation full time unless you are sure you can live from it. So in this case, money would be used as an indicator of value and he suggests yout test the ‘finanical viability’ of an idea using “little bets”. That means that you try your idea on a small scale and see if it works.

Translated to Academia, this could mean that you try out a new project in a poster presentation or something else with a low entrance boundary. You don’t spend huge amounts of time on it and seek feedback early on in the process. If people like it, you can decide to investigate further. But also, in Academia you need to be careful not to blurt out great project ideas or somebody might ‘steal them’. So maybe, if you new idea is a new method, try it out on your own old data and remain silent about which corpus it could be applied to according to you. Before you go all-in on an idea, make sure to test if there’s a ‘market’ for it with small-scale, small investment but quick feedback ‘small bets’.

 

You find your mission in the ‘adjacent possible’

Newport thinks that we can find great new ideas in the ‘adjacent possible’; so right beside the current cutting edge. In order to find those new ideas, you need a good overview of the current cutting edge. Then, by recombining what’s there, you might find the new hot combination. Getting to te cutting edge requires, yet again, that you become ‘so good they can’t ignore you’ in your subject area. He recounts a few scientists’ life stories who found opened new fields by combining multiple exisiting ones in a creative way.

 

The law of remarkability

In addition to the ‘craftsman mindset’, Newport suggests you also adopt the ‘mindset of the marketer’. So when you have an idea, it needs to be something people will remark about because it stands out (like Milka’s purple cows). Your venture needs to favour word-of-mouth marketing like this. Participating in a poster or science slam with a fun contribution might do the trick here.

 

Summary

Newport’s book may be summed up in a five step process:

  1. Build career capital, i.e. rare and valuable skills, using the craftsman mindset.
  2. Cash it in for independence and mission.
  3. Mission ideas can be found in the adjacent possible beside the current cutting edge. Finding them, however, requires expertise.
  4. Once you think you might have found something, follow up with systematic exploration using ‘little bets’ before you go all-in on your idea.
  5. Then, once you’re settled on an idea, you need a marketer mindset to generate ‘remarkability’.

Most experiences can be career capital later. So go for tons of experiences and explore. However, acquisition of career capital happens mostly via deliberate practice and deep work (book review to come!).

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. (Victor Hugo)

Systematically practise for improvement. Explicitly note down results from deliberate practice. Measure your progress. Income or success generation require for you to have something to trade in return. Thus: Be so good they can’t ignore you.

And the book is a definite recommendation – I loved it and thought it was something real, for once, in a jungle of self help bullshit. It all comes down to the fact that people become happy with their jobs who have the skills required. Those who just blindly pursue their supposed ‘passion’ will end up miserable. So maybe, when deciding what job you want to do,  first look where your skills are.  


XX

Saxa Loquuntur – How to understand the tales of stones

As I told you last week, I was on my way to Italy – and now, I am back here in Austria, sitting in my appartment, enjoyed a wunderful silent and easy Sunday without people and with a lot of reading and a lot of movies. And no, I did not think about my thesis. 😉

I was in desperate need of such a day – and I have taken off the next two days, just to recover myself, get my appartment cleaned, my clothes washed and my brain restarted. What helps you better with that than housework? At least, it helps me a lot. 🙂

So, here I am ( I admit it, the photo is from 2016), but still, it was another summer course and I am busy taking measurements of the letters of an inscritpions – while my colleague, who should acutally write the measurements down ( we were working in pairs), took this photo. 🙂

This post will be a short summar of my trip to Italy. One of many trips to the lovely city of Aquileia, now not that big deal, but maybe some of you know Grado? On your way to Grado you are passing Aquileia. If you have time, take a stop, get some ice cream and wander around. The city has some secrets to share.

I was here for the epigraphic summerschool of our university – this time with a little presentation of myself and some really important tasks, e.g. doing photographs of unpublished inscriptions and showing some photogrammetry and SFM, to get people involved with the material.

For me, teaching like that (yes, I may look like the holiday version of Lara Croft, but actually this is my teaching outfit on summer courses near the sea) has one important feature to give to students. Epigraphy is about text, yes. That does the name of this discipline define very clearly. Something engraved on a material. But for the text you need the material. And therefore, it is not only important to note the text, to follow the rules of documentation, translation and editing of inscriptions, but also to actually feel it. You have to work on the stone, the metal plate, the potsherd, etc. You have to touch it, describe it, think about it. You take measurements, descriptions of the reliefs and the decoration, you note everything you came across on the setting of the inscriptions and the letters.

How do we do an epigraphic course? Well, we start with one day of introductional presentations and then we will go and work on the material – that is, why Aquileia is so great as location for epigraphic courses. There is a very large number of inscribed stones – so, one will never get lonely. I can tell by now, it was my fifth course and I am still finding new things in the museums… 😉

Inscriptions are by means hust found in museums – some of them exist on mountainious passes, like this example here, dating back to Roman times and prooving this site as an ancient trade route.

So, how to read an inscription? Well, first step: No. You just don’t go there and start reading. Latin epigraphy (which we are dealing with in this post) is characterized by certain abbreviations of names, titles, positions of military and civil Roman careers, as well as by certain formulas. Things change by time, so some of these characteristics are even important for dating the whole thing. So, before you actually read the inscription – you spell it. You sit, you have your pen and your sheets ready and then you start to decipher one letter after another.

After spelling comes the reading and the resolving of the abbreviations. So, this will be step 2. Then you describe everything on the inscription field, the letters and so on. Next, the monument itself has to be described. What is it, when has it been found, where has it been found, are there any other notes on this site, other insriptions or dated material? Where is the object located now, does it have an inventory number, etc. Describing is hard work, you know. I am sometimes just taking the pictures, my colleagues describe the objects and help me with the setting of the lights. It is not that easy to take good photographs of inscriptions – basically, you should be able to read the whole text. So, this will be a question for the right light. In photography, everything is about light.

As far as I am now, I am unfortunately not allowed to post any photographs showing me with my working methods on the objects (how I set the light etc.), but I am working on it – I think it will be a nice tutorial for those of you interested in the process.

For the understanding of the many tales our material has to tell us, especially when bearing inscriptions of any kind, please, make yourself clear that you are dealing with a source which carries the directly engraved thoughts of people now long gone and vanished from this world of ours. This is why epigraphy is actually a very important discipline – yes, as long as they do not forget about the importance of involving archaeological method and information as working.

I hope, I have given you a short insight of our summercourses – there will be one next year, same time, so… if you are interested, please, do not hesitate to ask me about it.

For now, I hope you enjoyed this post – please, feel free to ask any questions on your mind. And stay tuned for more stone-things. 🙂

All the best,

Astrid

Loving bones, climbing stones. Stories of everyday phdlife