Traveling for a week

For the next week or so, I’m going to be hiking in the back country of Yosemite. That’s assuming that my legs hold up: after finishing the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July, my knees and ankles have been a little creaky recently.

I’ve been trying to get my email under control in the past month or so, but I don’t expect to have access to email or cell phone service at all for about a week. So don’t expect any replies if you email, and if we don’t post any webmaster videos next week, that’s the reason.

Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t get eaten by bears. :)

Goal: getting email under control

Each year I try to settle on a small set of big goals for the year. Last year my big goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This year, I settled on 2-3 goals I wanted to achieve:

1. Go skydiving. I was with a group of ~15 people in January and we realized that no one in the room had gone skydiving or run a marathon. Both sounded fun, so I made them goals for this year. I met some great folks at Foo Camp a couple weeks ago who had been skydiving, and this past weekend we went skydiving together:

Matt skydiving at 8000 feet or so

It was a lot of fun; I’d recommend skydiving to anyone. You’re up high enough that a fear of heights doesn’t come into play… much. (If you live in the Bay Area, I went to Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California and had a great experience.)

2. Run a marathon. This goal came from the same group in January where no one had run a marathon. I’ve been training for a couple months now and I’m up to nine miles on my long runs. Unless I’m injured, I think I’ll run a marathon this year. (By the way, USA FIT is a great organization in a bunch of U.S. cities where people get together to train for running a marathon.)

3. Get my email under control. This is a recent goal, but it might be the most important. Email is flawed in a lot of ways. Some wise people have referred to it as a “to-do list that anyone can add to.” It’s typically a poor use of time: you’re often talking to someone 1:1 when those cycles would be better spent working on something that will help a broader range of people or to realize a broader goal. Emails can take a long time to craft compared to other ways to communicate. Email is near-universal, but it lacks good ways for better processing or prioritizing (e.g. “show me the five least useful mailing lists” I get). Lots of email is sent to too many people or is just trying to find the right person to ask a question. Email also encourages us to pay attention to things that are urgent at the expense of things that are important.

Like most people in the tech industry, email has grown into monster for me in a lot of ways. I recently had a day without meetings, and I ended up spending the entire day replying to email, and still only took care of the email that I’d received that day. That’s just not sustainable–even a little more email would mean that I could never catch up–and that’s time that I’m not talking with my team, or thinking about new ways to improve search quality, or making videos or blog posts that can benefit a lot of people.

I’ve tried various email challenges before, e.g. not replying to outside emails for 30 days or not replying to emails after 10 p.m. I don’t know what my final solution to email will be, but this is a heads-up notice that I’m going to try a bunch of things until I find a better balance. I suspect that the final answer may be fairly radical, so if you’re hoping for an email reply from me, you should probably lower your expectations to zero. I’m going to try not replying to outside-Google emails for a while and then adjust things more over time.

Email is a big part of the problem, but I’ll probably have to say “no” more often as well. Please be patient with me while I try to recalibrate. I want to make sure that I spend my work time in the best way I can.

Traveling for next few weeks

I’m going to be traveling for the next few weeks. I’ll be at three different conferences:

I’ll probably be much slower to respond to emails and tweets while I’m on the road.

Are vaccines safe?

A lot of parents hear different things about the MMR vaccine (that’s measles, mumps, and rubella) or the flu or chicken pox or pertussis vaccine and wonder “How safe are vaccines?” It’s not a stupid question, given the conflicting information you might hear from different sources.

I’ve been doing research about vaccines and vaccine safety because I recently caught a mild case of pertussis (whooping cough). I also researched vaccines last year as part of my preparation for a trip to Africa. The research that I’ve done leads me to believe that your child is much better off getting vaccinated than not getting a vaccine.

Here’s some data points to help you make up your mind. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a good overview of relevant medical studies (PDF link), including studies of autism and vaccinations:

The concerns regarding vaccine safety have received a great deal of attention by parents, doctors, vaccine manufacturers and the media. Dozens of studies have been performed in the United States and elsewhere. The purpose of this document is to list those studies and provide links to the publications to allow parents and all those who administer or recommend vaccines to read the evidence for themselves. The studies provided have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. These studies do not show any link between MMR vaccine, thimerosal and autism.

A lot of people worry that children might get too many vaccinations. The AAP talks about that as well:

One study published in 2010 was conducted in response to concerns about the total number of vaccines children receive. In this study (the last one listed in this document), researchers found infants who followed the recommended vaccine schedule performed better on 42 different neuropsychological outcomes years later than children who delayed or skipped vaccinations. This should reassure parents that vaccinating their children on schedule is safe and is the best way to protect them from disease.

That’s what the current research says. A lot of people have read about Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was an author of a controversial paper in 1998 about the MMR vaccine and autism. I suggest you read this story on CNN about recent news concerning Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

The summary is that the Lancet, the original British journal that published the study, retracted the study’s claims in February 2010. Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May 2010. The recent news is that the British medical journal BMJ concluded that the now-retracted study was a fraud. The article about vaccination and autism continues:

Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them.

Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he [Wakefield] had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers — a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. ….

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers.

Godlee, the journal’s editor-in-chief, said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.

I understand that parents want to do the right thing for their child. My research on this issue leads me to believe that parents should make sure their children get vaccinations.

Start the year off right: empty your email and take some time off from Twitter/Facebook

Want to get a fresh start on the new year? Here’s a few quick tips:

- Start the year off with an empty inbox in Gmail. It’s pretty simple to do: you assign a label for everything in your inbox right now, then archive everything so your inbox is empty. You can still dig into that label if you want to work down your email backlog, but it feels great to start the new year fresh. Follow the steps to declare a lightweight email bankruptcy, with the chance of still responding to those emails down the road.

- Do a one week (or one month!) digital cleanse by staying off Twitter and Facebook. I think I’ve said before that if you want to fill five minutes, Twitter is a great way to fill 35 minutes. Sometimes I end up spending more time on Twitter than I mean to, so last year I took a week off from Twitter, which turned into a month off. It’s easier than you might think–why not try a digital cleanse yourself? I’m going to do this digital cleanse for at least a while.

Also think about what you want from this year. Resolutions work for some people and not for others. But if you come up with even a single area you’d like to explore more, it helps you to recognize those opportunities throughout the year.

In 2009 for example, I went on 10-11 trips. When I looked back, I realized that they’d all been inside the United States. So one of my goals for 2010 was to get out to other countries more. I ended up visiting Asia with my wife, taking a work-related trip to Europe, visiting Mexico with my wife, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with friends. I wouldn’t have done so many of those trips if I hadn’t set a goal in the back of my mind.

So think about your goals for the new year. Lots of people want to get their finances in better shape or have goals about losing weight/getting fit. Speaking as someone who has lost 35-40 pounds in the last few years and kept it off for ~3 years, my main recommendation is to look for small changes that you think you can sustain for the rest of your life.

But you could also ponder all sorts of directions you’d like to explore. Maybe you’d like to work on being happier this year. Maybe you’d like to improve your skills. If you’re a left-brained person, maybe you could get in touch with your creative side by learning to draw, sing, dance, play guitar, etc. Maybe you want to practice being thankful, or widen your circle of friends. Or spend more time with family. You could even break your goals down into 30 day challenges.

But I think the main thing is to do some thinking about where you’d like to go this year. It can really pay off. What sorts of goals do you have for the new year?

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