I am responding to this post by my colleague, Francesca Giannetti, from the RUteaching blog that I just became aware of. The discussion there is about the PLE, or personal learning environment. I think it’s interesting to reflect on, because most of the time I am just marinating in my PLE rather than conscious of it.
I find that I use different communication mechanisms for different purposes, and they have different time scales and impacts on my thinking. Enough generalities, let’s jump in!
- Listservs and mailing lists – mostly keeping up on “official” business, whether from work or my membership organizations (IASSIST, American Statistical Association). I experience this as a continuous flow of incremental information.
- RSS – I am committed to this antique technology because I find it is there just when I want it. A feed reader is a like a faithful servant that doesn’t bother you when you are busy with other things, but keeps everything ready for you when you return. I monitor my journal TOCs, academic blogs, job postings, and some general news via RSS. Since Google Reader went belly up, I have been using Liferea for Linux with satisfaction.
- Blogs – Interesting to skim, but there are only a few of regular value for me, such as R-bloggers to keep me up to date on new R developments.
- Email – this is problematic because I am like many who struggle with e-mail. My e-mail queue becomes my de facto to-do list too often, and I often fail to prioritize the right things. Too many different kinds of activities end up in e-mail. I definitely do not like to read long e-mails.
- PDFs – for long-term thoughtful academic reading, I prefer to accumulate folders full of interesting PDF articles and books, and then devour them on quiet days.
- Books – My print books tend to be heavy tomes on math, statistics, or literature. After seeing these in piles for a couple of years making me feel guilty, I feel the necessary pressure to plow through them. Books express some of my grander (and more unrealistic?) ambitions.
- Websites and bookmarks – I track these, try to organize my bookmarks, keep them in Libguides, and more, but I find that I don’t return to websites nearly as often as I think I will. This is primarily because my list of substantive readings in the other formats above are plenty enough to fill all of my time. So, unless a website is in my face, or a really good aggregator, like R-bloggers, it tends not to get my attention.
- Videos – I have appreciated some video tutorials (in addition to producing a few of my own), especially in structured courses on Coursera and other sites. But Youtube is an oceanic resource, but no matter what I go to it for, I always end up in K-pop, so it is dangerous from a productivity perspective [has anyone developed a “serious-only” filter for YouTube?]. I dislike sitting through an hour-long video talk with no associated text or slides to guide some skimming ahead. If necessary, I will download the video and play it at double speed in VLC.
- Conference Talks and Presentations – These tend to be more useful for me as a continual update to the current landscape in librarianship, helping to set directions for more focused reading and exploration. Again, I prefer skimmable formats to be made available, even for things I might be attending in person.
I somehow skipped through life up to now without encountering Benford’s Law. Now that I have, I am flabbergasted that it is not more widely known, or maybe I’ve just been hanging with wrong crowd. Here’s a hint. If I have a set of measurements, like the population of countries, or a list of atomic weights, how often would you expect the first digit of the measurement to be 1? Well, it can’t start with a zero, but any of the other 9 digits is possible, right? If you think the answer is 1/9, think again. The wikipedia post, MathWorld, and this DataGenetics blog posting are good starting points to understand why. It turns out this is useful in many areas of data analysis.