Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Truth Is Out There

One thing I've learned recently is that rumors can have anniversaries. Another is that the Internet is not a reliable source of information. The truth is out there, but finding it and verifying it can be tricky. A convenient example showed up in my email yesterday.


The gist of the (incorrect message was:

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles off earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons.

This story dates back to the year 2003 when Mars did make a close approach to Earth. No, it never looked as big as described here, and no, it never will unless you become the first person to go to Mars. Nonetheless, the story spread via email and each August it shows up again. I'm thinking of holding a Mars Hoax party to celebrate the anniversary.


What I do find dismaying is that people pass this kind of story on with no verification. There are many ways to check things out. Here are a couple you may find useful.


First, there are websites you can check for hoaxes on.






Second, you can dig out actual data through WolframAlpha, which may be the Internet's best calculation website:


Mars in 2003




vs 2010




You will see the distance to Earth near the top and a drawing of relative positions if you scroll down. Comparing the two will show you that Mars was close in 2003. This year, Mars is on the far side of the Sun and nearly impossible to see.


My thought for the day: Before you put a CC Everybody onto an email, ask yourself if what you are sending out can be checked.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Skills of Life: Capturing the Stray Thought

At one time or another, we all need to capture a phone number, write down an address, or remember to buy cat food. Frequently, the note is lost or buried where it cannot be found. Stray ideas may have almost nothing to do with anything else. They belong in a capture mechanism which ensures they will get to the next step. Here are some basic strategies for keeping these notes where they belong so you have them available as needed.


Perhaps the easiest approach is a pad of paper with edges that can be torn off cleanly. A separate section in a loose leaf notebook or planner works equally well. The rules of engagement are as follows:

·         A piece of paper collects only one piece of information. For example, during a  phone call, you are given the name and number of someone else you need to call. Don't write it at the bottom of a page of notes, use a new piece of paper. Capture the name of the person you are calling and the phone number. You might also want to capture who suggested the call, why it is useful, and the date the note was made. Another call or another lead goes on another piece of paper.

·         Never use the back side of this paper.

Your goal is to do something with that sheet of paper at the first opportunity. You might make the call, in which case the paper can be discarded without losing anything else. If you decide to make the call later, the paper can go into a tickler file or a calls folder, again without creating a problem elsewhere. Finally, you might want to copy the information onto a calendar or a contacts list for later use. If the paper has anything else on it, you are forced to handle it more than once.


Plan B is to reserve a section of your notebook or planner for input, capturing multiple items on a page. In a situation where many things may show up in a short amount of time, you aren't constantly looking for more paper. Also, the list may give you a better sense of how close you are to being caught up. The down side is that you will have to transcribe each item into its own calendar entry or list unless you can take action  on each item in turn. Effort saved at the front end comes at the cost of more handling later on.


Electronic organizers can emulate either of these approaches. I prefer to put each thought or potential task as an item of its own and leave its category unspecified. Later, I can update it or change its category to include in an appropriate list, for example call, visit, or email.


Decide now how you will capture the stray thought that may show up and how you will integrate it into your life. In the end, a thought is not captured until you store it where it will be available when needed. Success is measured by the potentially conflicting goals of easy to capture, easy to find, and easy to handle when needed.