on deadlines and priority: a physical analogue

deadline vs priorityLooking at my to-do list today, I noticed for the millionth time how two key attributes of a task seem to be either redundant or in conflict: its due date and its priority.

It always seemed to me that you should only need to assign one or the other. If you have a deadline, then what does the priority affect? If the item is high enough priority, isn’t the due date ASAP?

Today, though, I had a flash of insight. The due date defines how much I have to work on the item in order to get it done in time, almost like the velocity of the task. The priority, however, defines how resistant the job is to being derailed by other tasks, more like the inertia or mass of the task.

Put that way, the two values aren’t redundant at all. In fact, you can put them together to determine the overall momentum of a project, based on the combination of the deadline-driven velocity and the priority-based mass. It might even be possible to come up with a formula for determining the outcome of a collision between two tasks, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the project manager.

progress means not having to finish things

WikiReader in the wildA few years ago, I started a project to build something I’d wanted for a long time: a simple device that could read Wikipedia articles and Project Gutenberg texts. I called it a WikiBub. The point was to create something dirt simple on the cheap, instead of the usual “convergence device” that does everything (and is priced to match).

Five years later, I can check it off my to-do list. I never got the hardware working, and I didn’t even get past the rough-sketch stage of the design, but other people met my goals for me. The WikiReader (pictured) matches the original WikiBub idea perfectly: it’s simple, cheap ($99), open to hacking, and designed to do one thing (reading Wikipedia) well.

Of course, the idea of a simple-to-use ebook reader without eyestrain or battery issues is no longer new; the Kindle took care of popularizing that one. I also moved on to another hand-held reading device you may have heard of, which (mostly) took away my need for a dedicated reader. Still, it’s nice to see something so true to the WikiBub spirit. I hope it flourishes.

tomayto tomahto

Speak & SpellI often see a word in print long before I hear it pronounced. That’s fine for most wordsó”antidisestablishmentarianism” isn’t actually that hard to deconstructóbut it can get me in trouble sometimes. For years I thought misled was pronounced “mizzled”, and I never did decide how envelope should sound.

Now that’s going to be a lot easier, thanks to a little programming trickery by John Tantalo. He created a handy bookmarklet that takes standard International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcriptions (as found on many Wikipedia pages) and runs them through a text-to-speech (TTS) system to speak them aloud.

Checking a few known pronunciations against Wikipedia’s IPA for them, I see that either the TTS server or the listed IPA needs some work. I suspect the latter, because the IPA for the Niger River entry (/?na?d??r/) sounds great, while the IPA for Nagios (/?n???i.o?s/) sounds way off (as I write this at least). Still, most entries work great, and I expect this tool to encourage more authors to include IPA as it gets used.