All posts by Jamie Todd Rubin

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless lifestyle. His stories have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. He vacations frequently in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children.

Practical Statistical Modeling: The Dreaded After-School Carpool Pickup

The Little Man started kindergarten this week. It meant a new school, and the new school has one of these well-organized systems of picking up your kids at the end of the day. But it can be a bit intimidating the first time. Basically, it works like this:

You arrive at the school and pull around to a side parking area. Four lanes are set up. Each lane holds about 10 cars, and the lanes are filled in order, first lane first, then the second, and so on. When all lanes are filled, the area is closed. Cars that don’t make the first round, line up in the upper parking areas for the second round. The students are released, the go to their cars. When all students are in the cars, the lanes are released in order. This is then repeated for the second round.

It’s very organized and efficient, but there if you want to be in that first round, or that first lane, you have to get there pretty early. As someone who doesn’t really want to sit in the car for half an hour, I decided I’d get there early on the first two days to capture data about when cars arrive, and build a statistical model based on that. Which is exactly what I did. I arrived early, getting into the first half of the first lane, and then noted the arrival times, and lane positions of the other cars in the first round. I did this for two days, and then built my model.

Constructing the model

The  model was fairly simple. I used a negative number to represent the number of minutes before dismissal (a kind of t-minus 10 minutes) that a car arrived. With that number, I gave the number of the car. So at t-21 minutes, car 16 and 17 arrived. Since each lanes holds 10 cars, it’s pretty easy to determine which lane (and which slot in a lane) the car is in. I ran a correlation on my data and got a very strong correlation: 0.951. The r-squared came to 0.905. I then plotted the data in a scatterplot, and annotated it to better illustrate the lanes. Here is what the results look like:

Carpool Model
Click to enlarge

As you can see, the data makes it clear that in order to make the first round, I’d need to arrive no later than 7 minutes before dismissal. If I want to be in the first lane, I need to arrive no later than 24 minutes before dismissal.

Adding practicality

Of course, it would be a little more practical if the model told me when to leave the house. I hadn’t thought to note the time I left the house and arrived at the school each day, but it didn’t matter. I grabbed the data from my Automatic Link device, and was able to determine that it took, on average, 6 minutes to drive from the house to the school. To be safe, I added 1 minute to this number, and then came up with the following table:

Departure Times

So now, I know that if I want to be in that first round of pickups, I need to leave the house no later than 14 minutes before the students are dismissed. That information could end up saving quite a bit of time over the course of the year. I tend to like to get places early, but I have to balance that against other things I need to get done. Knowing that I don’t have to leave the house half an hour early buys me an extra 15 minutes/day. That doesn’t sound like much, but, I can write a page and a half in 15 minutes. So it’s something.

How Churchill’s “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples” Got on My Reading List

If you’ve been following along, you know that among my latest obsessions is William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion. As of tonight, I am very close to finishing the second volume (the Second World War has just begin with Germany’s invasion of Poland).

In the prelude to war, Churchill, in addition to doing his best to get Great Britain into the game, was busy working on his mammoth  A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Descriptions of his research for the book, the subject matter (including the various kings of England) and quoted passages fascinated me, to the point where I found myself wishing I could read that book, too.

And so, I’ve added all 4 volumes of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples and I’m looking forward to reading that. But maybe not immediately after finishing the Churchill biography. I think I deserve a little lighter fare. Possibilities include:

  • John Scalzi’s Lock In.
  • Steven Gould’s Exo.
  • And Jack McDevitt’s Coming Home, the next Alex Benedict . This doesn’t come out until November, but Jack, wonderful guy that he is, has sent a proof my way. I really can’t wait to read this one, as the Alex/Chase novels are among my favorites.

Bottom line, I have plenty to read, but my obsession with Churchill continues.

Guest Post Over at SF Signal: “Daddy, What’s Dungeons & Dragons?”

Last week, the Little Man, now 5, asked me The Question when my copy of the latest edition of the Player’s Handbook arrived in the mail:

Well, when you’re five year-old asks, you’re kind of compelled to answer. So I wrote an article about it, and you can find the article over at SF Signal.

Daddy, What’s Dungeons and Dragons?

Many thanks to John DeNardo and company for having me over there today.

FAQ on My Ongoing Consecutive Day Writing Streak

Last week, 99u published an article of mine entitled “How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken.” At the time I wrote the article, the streak was, indeed, at 373 days. On the day the article was published, I think it was up to 393 days. And on Monday of this week, I hit 400 consecutive days of writing. The 99u article has turned out to be, by far, the most popular article I’ve written. As of this morning, it has been shared more than 4,400 times. I don’t know if that counts as viral, but it is both amazing and humbling to me. I have received more feedback on the article than for anything I’ve written before, fiction or nonfiction, and all of it, every last tweet, email, and comment, has been positive. Which, of course, delights me.

One result of all of this is that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the streak, so this post serves as a place to point people for the most common questions and my answers. Keep in mind that I am writing this post on the 401st day of my consecutive day streak.

You can find the FAQ below.

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Going Paperless: 6 Steps for Life Continuity Planning in Evernote

At the day job, we’ve been going through various business continuity exercises over the last year or so. These are exercises in which we imagine some catastrophic disaster from which we then have to continue doing business-as-usual. Or, as close to as-usual as we can manage.

The corollary outside the business world, of course, is estate planning, something which we don’t like to dwell on, but which is necessary for the continued comfort of our loved ones after we’ve gone to the big ball park in the sky1. Of course, it’s one thing to have the various estate plans setup, and another thing to for them to be readily accessible when they are needed.

Earlier this year I went through the process of setting up what I call a “Life Continuity” plan in Evernote and making sure that my family could easily access it in the event of my untimely demise. Roughly speaking, these are the 6 steps I went through to make sure that my life continuity plan was useful and practical.

1. Tag all critical documents with “911″

When some bad happens, things get frantic quickly. I don’t want people needlessly hunting for documents and information that should be readily accessible. So the first thing that I did was go through all of the documents that I thought would be critical: powers of attorney, wills, life insurance, etc., and tagged them with “911.”

In the U.S. “911″ is the number you dial when there’s an emergency. It’s short, it’s simple, and no one who is looking through my relatively short list of tags, could mistake its meaning.

I was careful not to overdo it. I really just wanted to make sure that the most critical documents were accessible so that there was no added frustration at a time when emotions run hot. There was probably a total of 10 or 12 documents that got tagged this way.

2. Create a checklist note of the most important things to do

Back when I was private pilot, I learned about the importance of checklists. The real value of a checklist comes, not from its routine use, but when an emergency arises. You don’t want to have to hunt around for information. It needs to be right in front of you.

I tried to imagine the kind of information my family would need access to quickly, and I created a note in Evernote that outlined this information. People to contact, both friends and family, but also professionals: lawyers, accountants, etc. I tried to put the list in some order of priority so that whoever was using it wouldn’t need to think to much. Everything would be right there, including the names, phone numbers and email addresses.

Of course, I also tagged this note “911.”

3. Use note links to easily access related notes

Where it made sense, I added note links on my checklist that link to the documents to which they refer. Sure, these documents are also accessible by searching for the “911″ tag, but on the checklist the items are in order, and rather than having to go hunting, or even taking an extra step to search, all you have to do is click on a link to access the note.

4. Create a “911″ saved search

With the various documents tagged, it made sense to cut out one step of the process by creating a “911″ saved-search. This simply searches for all documents tagged “911″ no matter where they are located.

911 Search

One of the nice side-effects of naming the saved search 911 is that, in my case, at least, it’s the very first search in the list.

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Notes

  1. I’m not talking about Coors Field, gang.

Do You Have an Idea for a Future Going Paperless Post?

Every now and then, I like to ask folks for ideas or topics that they would like to see me cover in my Going Paperless posts. This is one of those times. If you have an idea or a topic that you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments. Don’t worry if it is something I might already have covered, but if it is, let me know if there is some aspect that requires clarification or more detail.

I’ll add the ideas I get to my list of future post topics.

Halfway Through the Churchill Biography

At some point today, I passed the halfway mark in William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill. The 3 volumes total 131 hours of listening time.  I am more than halfway through the second volume, and the pivotal year 1938 is rapidly approaching a close.

I’m sort of obsessed with the biography right now. A few nights ago, Michael J. Sullivan was telling me about the latest book he was reading, and asked what I was reading. “Second volume of the Churchill biography,” I told him. He gave me a strange look. “Still Churchill? Light reading, eh?” Or something like that. I’ve gotten that reaction a few times. But I can’t help it. I can’t seem to turn away. One reason is that the books, though long, are never dull. But there is another, more important reason.

I’ve said this before, but I’m always amazed at how much we gloss over history while in school. Understandably, this isn’t really the fault of the schools. History is a long, detailed interwoven story, and even with 16 years of schooling, you can only skim the surface. That said, there are event in 20th century history for which I knew nearly nothing. The First World War was one. I knew the very basics taught in 4th or 5th grade. Or maybe 7th or 8th grade, I can’t remember. The first volume of Churchill’s biography went into great detail on the first World War and it was fascinating.

Then, too, my understanding of British politics has been somewhat limited. I had an amazing professor in school who dove into some parliamentary politics, using Great Britain as a model, but that was more philosophical, instead of real history. It’s fascinating to read the behind-the-scenes political mechanics of Great Britain.

There is also something utterly frustrating about Britain’s role in Europe in the second half of the 1930s, with the appeasers giving Germany what they want. It’s like watching some riveting television drama unfold, in which you suspect (or even know) the outcome. I keep wanting to shout, “Get in the game, already!” and then remember that this has already happened.

But halfway through, I can say that so far it is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to climb into my time machine and get back to the events of 1938 so that I can see what happens. Of course, I know what happens. But the book is that good.

Here I Am Accepting the ALS Ice Bucket Challange

I woke up this morning to discover that Brent Bowen, of Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing fame, had named me in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Not one to delay the inevitable, I enlisted the help of my family to complete the challenge. We made a donation to the ALS Foundation this morning, and then, we me made this video:

In case it wasn’t clear in the video, I challenged Doug Rubin, Jennifer Ashlock, Eric Straus, and Lisa Krupp. You guys have 24 hours…

How Much Time I Spend Writing, Automated and Revisited

About a month ago, I automated the process of capturing how much time I spend writing each day, and incorporated that data into my Google Doc Writing Scripts. Here is how this work:

  • I use RescueTime on all of my computers, home and work.
  • RescueTime tracks how much time I spend in various applications, including specific documents.
  • Using the RescueTime API, I wrote a script that captures how much time I spend in Google Docs each day.
  • That number gets recorded in my writing spreadsheet automatically each night.

This means I no longer have to “clock in” or “clock out” to track my writing time. I just start writing, stop writing, continue later, etc. and all of it captured automatically by my script. With almost a month of this type of data on the books, it’s interesting to look at how my guesses match reality.

Generally, when I’m firing on all cylinders, I can write 6 pages (1,500 word) per hour. Put another way that is about a page every ten minutes. Of course, I don’t always reach this apogee of output. It turns out (with about 30 days worth of data to go on) that the correlation between the time I spend writing and how much I write is pretty strong (0.59). I took the data and ran a scatter plot, with a trendline using that correlation, and here is the results:

Writing Time

It is clear that the more time I spend, the more I write, but it’s not as strong a correlation as you might think. Part of the reason is that sometimes, it takes a while to get things out of my head. Here is what that same set of data looks like plotted individually over time. First the word counts…

30 Days Words

and then the time spent…

30 Days Time

These two charts illustrate that while the correlation is pretty strong, there are times when I clearly get bogged down. August 5 is a good example. I wrote just about 1,200 words, but it took me 79 minutes. And yet on August 7, I wrote 1,600 words and it took me under an hour. This variability is caused by two things:

  1. Concentration. Sometimes, in difficult scenes, I slow way down to think things through and work them out. Remember, I generally don’t plot ahead, so especially in first draft, I’m working out things on the fly.
  2. Interruptions. I’ve talked about how in order to write every day, I’ve had to learn to write with distraction. Sometimes, the kids will need me for something, I’ll step away for 5 or 10 minutes with no progress on the document, and then return and write more. That clearly shows up as slower.

But that red trendline in the first chart is pretty accurate, and comes close to my intuitive guesses. I have said that I wrote about 500 words in 20 minutes. That’s 1,000 words in 40 minutes. If you look at the 1,000 word-mark on that first chart, and then go up to where the red trendline crosses the 1,000 word-mark, it’s right about the 40-45 minute mark. My intuition is pretty accurate! You’ll also note that 1,500 words crosses at right about the 60 minute mark.

I have less than 30 days of the time data, but as this volume of data increases, I expect the trendline to become more accurate. One thing that is particularly useful about a chart like this is that it can tell you for a given amount of time you have available, how much you can accomplish. Or, flipping it around, if you want to write 1,000 words, how much time will you need to set aside?

Entirely automated

I wanted to call this out one more time. All of the data above is generated automatically. I don’t spend a single instant of my time collecting it. That is perhaps the biggest value. Once I wrote the scripts (which I did spent time on) I get the data without any effort, and this can be used to help me make adjustments down the road.

You can see my realtime data, including how much writing I’ve done at various intervals (my ongoing writing streak, for example) and how much time I’ve spent writing. Head on over to open.jamierubin.net to check it out.

The Best Way to Contact Me

Last summer I retired my voicemail. Voicemail is an antiquated communication mechanism and does not lend itself toward automation or speedy responses. Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of calls I get from phone numbers that I don’t recognize. About 90% of the time, when I answer these calls, they are solicitations of one kind or another. I’m tired of them. I don’t mind saying “no” to these solicitations, but it does grate on me when they don’t take no for an answer.

So, going forward, I’m not answering calls from numbers that I don’t recognize. That means that going forward, the best way to contact me, especially if I don’t know, is though email. The email address to use is:

jamie [at] jamietoddrubin [dot] com

In order to encourage this as my preferred form of contact, I am going to attempt to answer most messages within 24 hours.  To keep me honest, I’m making my real-time email response stats available for folks to look at1  As of July, those numbers look as follows:

July 2014 Response

You can see that right now, I answer about 30% of my email within 24 hours. Over the next month or two, I will try to bring this up above 75-80%.

When in doubt, send me an email. It is always the best bet for the quickest response.

Social media

I’m usually pretty responsive on social media, almost always responding within the same day, although the time within the day can vary depending on how busy I am. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus for things that don’t require a private email message.

Blog comments

I really try to stay on top of blog comments, but I also like the thread to stay on topic. For things that aren’t related to the post at hand, you are better off sending me email, or getting in touch with me on social media.

Chats, Hangouts, Skype, etc.

I’m perfectly fine doing Google Chats, Facebook Chats, Google Hangouts or Skype, but again, these depend on my ability to be fully engaged. If the question or request is fairly simple, email is almost always your best bet.


Of course, if your number is in my contacts, or we’ve pre-arranged a phone call, we’re good. I’m just drawing the line on unrecognized numbers because they turn out to be a steady drain on my very limited time.

Have questions? Drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Notes

  1. Not quite real-time yet, but they will be in they will be within the next few days. Right now, it is displaying my static aggregate numbers from July 2014.

Happy Birthday, Little Miss

Three years ago today, the Little Miss was born. This is the first birthday that she has been fully aware of, and consequently, very excited about. In the ordinary course of the morning, getting ready for school, I’ll ask her what she wants for breakfast, and she’ll tell me yogurt and Cheerios. This morning when I asked, she said, “Nuffin” (Nothing).

I went downstairs to put stuff in the car (there’s cupcakes and goodie bags for her class, after all), and when I came in, she was coming down the stairs. “Are we leaving yet?” she asked. Clearly, she was excited to get started.

Three years goes by in the blink of an eye, and it is easy to lose the little moments in the over all wave of passing time. But, as I’ve done for both kids, I jot down milestones in Evernote, as they happen. I was reviewing the milestones for the Little Miss this morning, and here are a few of them from the last 3 years.

5/13/2012, Crawling

My note reads: [The Little Miss] crawled forward about 2 paces this evening on the carpet in the office.

She was about 9 months old at this time.

5/21/2012, Standing

Not one for being satisfied with simple, crawling, a week later, I noted (with a photograph) that she was pulling herself up into a standing position.

5/27/2012, Mama

The Little Miss said, “Mama” deliberately for the first time.

6/5/2012, Big brother

The Little Miss said her brother’s name, deliberately, twice in the same evening.

8/13/2012, Steps

Just shy of a year old, the Little Miss is taking 5-6 steps at a time before plopping back down to the floor.

9/29/2012, Sleep

The Little Miss is sleeping through the night in her crib. Both of her parents are greatly relieved, and are also (finally) sleeping through the night.

2/25/2013, ABCs, and potty

The Little Miss sings (adorably) the ABC song, as well as “Bah Bah Black Sheep.” She’s 18 months old. She also used the potty for the first time on this day.

7/8/2013, Preschool

The Little Miss had her first day at preschool today.

10/25/2013, Bunk Beds

Never one for wanting to sleep in her own room, the Little Miss and Little Man spent their first night in their new (at the time) bunk beds, and loved it. They’ve been sleeping there ever since.

12/8/2013, Frozen

The Little Miss went to see her first movie in the theater, Frozen. She hasn’t stopped singing since.

2/1/2014, Skating

The Little Miss (and Little Man) went ice skating for the first time today.


The Little Miss will have yet another milestone in the next 2 weeks, when she moves into the “senior” classroom at her school. In the meantime, it was wonderful to see her so happy and excited about her birthday this morning. She will be celebrating with her classmates today, her family this evening, and her friends (at her party) this weekend.

Happy birthday, Little Miss!