Friday, May 27, 2011


I know cliché it may sound, but this book changed my life:

Focus -a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction- by Leo Babauta

Before I started to read Focus, I already became close to a breaking point due to my bad online habits I developed over the last few years.

I let information overload littering my consciousness like there is no end. I have it all at home, Facebook, Google Reader, Google Buzz, Twitter, Gmail, Delicious, LinkedIn, hundreds of friends, tweets, ‘Like’s, you name it.

To make things worse I try to catch up with every other progressive agenda that I feel passionate about, be it atheism, teaching evolution, gender equality, global peace, human rights, democracy and so on.

I maintain two blogs, Negative Matter and Evrim Olgusu (Turkish).

At work things are not any better. Let me say though, the company I work for is one of the best organisations in the IT industry in terms of work practices. I have a very reasonable workload and stress free job. Yet being my own enemy I manage to create stress for myself out of nothing, thanks largely to my lack of awareness about ill effects of distractions.

The Focus book will convince you how much, without being aware, we enslave ourselves to information overload, how distractions become addictions, and how much unnecessary stress they create on us. Then it will teach you techniques to eliminate the problem and find your own rhythm.

Last week I started to apply some of the techniques I learned, and I already witnessed substantial benefits. Currently I am still experimenting with different methods.

In a nutshell the message is:

"Divide work/hobbies -things that require focus-, and distractions in separate time-slots, both at work and in your private life, and simplify your life by getting rid of the stuff you don't need".

The crucial point is to deal with disruptions in predefined timeslots. This may at first seem to be a contradiction, as by definition distractions happen unplanned. So they seem.

The idea here is not to get rid of distractions. In fact, as Babauta states, at times we need distractions, to prioritise our work, and relax stress caused by probable bottlenecks in our focused work.

The key idea is to condense distractions and focused work in separate timeslots.

Here are some simple steps I took:
  1. I disconnected from Facebook.
  2. I reduced Google Reader RSS feeds by 90%.
  3. I changed my browser’s home page from Gmail to plain Google search page (not iGoogle).
  4. I close excessive tabs opened in my browser.

At work:
  1. I clean up my desk clutter, and don’t let clutter to cumulate. No papers, no sticky pads, no objects between my PC monitor and me. I have just my teacup.
  2. I have one small pile of paper to the left of my direction (not directly visible). The pile is neat –no paper is hanging- and I regularly reduce it.
  3. I have one plain A4 page hung on the empty panel to the right of my direction. On it there is a small list of items I intend to finish during the day. This page changes every morning. There is nothing else hung on panels I am facing.
  4. I check my email in predefined timeslots. At the moment I am trying this schedule: 9am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm. At these times I check my email, and respond to messages. I try to remain within 15-20 minutes boundary each time.
  5. In the development environment I use –Microsoft Visual Studio-, I pay attention to workspace clutter and frequently close files I no longer need.
  6. Similarly I clean up my Windows desktop. I have no shortcuts, folders on my desktop wall, which are not absolutely necessary.

Well it works. It works beautifully. I cannot tell you how much my productivity and quality of work I produce increased at work and at home.

In incoming days I will be experimenting with different techniques and I will let you know how I proceed. Until then bye.

For more information on Focus, the book, see:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


At the moment I am reading "How to write history that people want to read" by Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath. I am also browsing through "Essential English Grammar" by Ron Simpson.

I intend to learn more on good writing and improve quality and readability of my articles.

I have plans to make my Turkish blog "Evrim Olgusu" (The Fact of Evolution) accessible should the planned restrictions on Internet access by religious Turkish Government goes ahead in August 2011.

"Evrim Olgusu" has enthusiastic followers who are looking forward to read unbiased translations and articles on Evolution. I see them as bright stars against a dark backdrop of religious ignorance. They are the only hope we have to educate wider audience on Evolution in one of the most ignorant countries where Evolution education is systematically censored.

I am also working on a Mac project called "Logonbox". Like its predecessors "Zippylock" and "Skeinforce", Logonbox will be a password management utility program, much simpler to use and web enabled. Logonbox will be available in Apple App Store later this year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Drop your sandbags

Liberation came when I decided to quit Facebook.

What started as a simple desire to share ideas, talk about progressive politics, and in between share a few jokes or youtube links in a virtual world came to an abrupt end.

My interest to Facebook started to feel like as if my body was stuck under a pile of colossal machinery designed for self gratification.

I don’t intend to put down people who use Facebook. I think everybody must have different reasons and capacity to commit their time and energy into it.

What I naively expected was intelligent conversations -no pun intended-.

Instead what I ended up having were some ‘Like’s, ‘Hahaha’s, ‘LOL’s and plenty of nothing. People did not bother to respond or interact as much as I wished them to do so.

Frankly writing on blank whitewash walls in a prison cell would have had the same effect.

Well, this must be the way Facebook works then. People share shallow sketches of their boring life -mine included-, and great majority of users seem hardly capable of putting their energy into anything other than sharing a few photos or videos someone else made.

I now regained time, momentum, focus, control, vitality and desire to pursue my private projects.

Strongly recommended..

To liberate yourself, drop your sandbags.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Why Question and Arrow of Time

I have a mechanical engineer friend who is often called to diagnose and deal with problems at various sites across the country. He works for a recycling company which has plants in various locations. I am on the other hand a software engineer. We are both experienced folks who have some quarter a century experience in our pockets. We often have lunch together and exchange stories about engineering.

The business my friend works for is specialised to process scrap material obtained from breaking vehicles (cars, trucks etc) into pieces. They have sophisticated equipment to separate and sort scrap material according to their type (aluminum, steel, plastic) and weight.

Recently I have realised emergence of a remarkable pattern between his stories and mine. My friend mentioned he had been called on to diagnose a problem which was about a conveyor belt malfunction. Apparently the conveyor belt in question had excessive dirt cumulated on it. The foreman and workers rather than investigating the origins of the problem (why excessive dirt appeared at the first place), devise instead patch up solutions to clean up the dirt and this caused other structural problems on the belt.

In software engineering too when we have a tough problem, a crash without a stack trace, or an odd looking problem such as identical pointers appearing twice in a hash table thereby causing an infinite loop, some engineers cannot just wander off from their conventional comfort zones but instead remain stuck in the area where they first observed the problem. They automatically think an infinite loop is indicative of a problem right there. Similar to conveyor belt problem adjusting the hash algorithm to detect identical objects and handling the error at that point will not fix the originating problem. This approach will also make the algorithm needlessly complex and perform poorly.

Patch up fixes without understanding the root cause often result in expensive technical debt to cumulate which will cause more problems down the track.

Lateral thinking is a mindset, it is about asking the question ‘why’ and it is about the courage and ability to reverse the arrow of time.

The problem with the conveyor belt is not the dirt cumulated it is ‘why’ the dirt cumulated.

The problem with two identical pointers stored in a hash table is not an error with hash algorithm, it is ‘why’ the same object stored twice further back in history.

Lateral thinking is about going back in the history (time) and locality (belt’s location, program’s stack trace) and replaying cause and effect game in reverse direction.

Perhaps going back against the arrow of time is counter intuitive for most. Perhaps humans have evolved to go along with the arrow of time for pragmatically solving immediate problems with high survival value and only few have capability to rewind their thoughts back in history.

Could this be the fundamental reason why so many people find it hard to understand evolution. Reluctance, lack of resilience or inability to ask and track back the ‘why’ question.