Effective e-mail

Summary: Everybody’s busy, everybody gets a lot of email, so make your email cost others as little time and effort as possible to read and understand.

Here are some e-mail tips I gave a new hire. Because, sadly, email is still the dominant communication medium at a lot of companies. So in such companies, it’s a major part of how people perceive you, and whether you really get heard.

  • Put information in the subject line. It may be all that others read, and it will be repeated many times in a long thread.
  • If you’re asking a question, end the subject line with a question mark.
  • Open with an address to some particular individual, using the “Hi First-Name,” format. (Most people ignore who is the on To list vs. who is on the Cc list.)
  • Give an executive summary in the first paragraph. Assume that many people will not read further.
  • Use quick pictures when possible instead of words, such as with the Microsoft Snipping Tool or photos of hand-drawn diagrams on paper or white board, embedded in body, not as attachments. People are less likely to look at attachments, and attachments are lost in replies.
  • Conciseness is valued. It’s worth investing some time to compress and edit down one more time, before clicking send.
  • If you feel at all angry, don’t click send. Take a walk instead.
  • Don’t write anything in email you would not want broadcast far and wide, because some fool will do that to you someday.
  • Beware that all email is archived by the company. Yet another reason to do all your own personal business on your own personal device.
  • Face-to-face meetings or phone calls are often more effective, but soon afterward summarize in email, concisely. Get it on the record.
  • Try to use the word ‘Because’ at the start of one early sentence, especially in the initial mail in a thread.
  • If the natural response to your mail would be “What do you want me to do about it?”, propose a specific action.


Goodbye permafrost, hello accelerated warming

According to “Schoolmeester, T., Gjerdi, H.L., Crump, J., Alfthan,
B., Fabres, J., Johnsen, K., Puikkonen, L., Kurvits, T. and Baker, E., 2019. Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic. UN Environment and GRIDArendal, Nairobi and Arendal.” at www.grida.no

The current area of permafrost in the northern hemisphere is approximately 15 million km2. This is projected to decrease to 12 million km2 by 2040, followed by a rapid decrease to 5 to 8 million km2 by 2080 (AMAP, 2017a). Studies show that near-surface permafrost continues to warm and the active layer (the
top layer of soil that thaws in the summer and freezes again in the
fall) is deepening in most areas where permafrost is monitored
(AMAP, 2017a). This change allows microbes to consume buried
organic matter and release CO2 and methane. The release of large
quantities of this highly potent GHG, is particularly concerning.
However, while this can accelerate climate change, the magnitude
and timing of these emissions and their subsequent impact is still
largely unknown (AMAP, 2015a; Schuur et al., 2015).
Studies show that when permafrost thaws below thermokarst
lakes (lakes formed in the depressions left by thawing
permafrost) the results may be even more severe than the
thawing of near-surface permafrost. The water at the surface
speeds up the thawing process of the old carbon below and
the gases rise quickly through the lake into the atmosphere,
effectively “flash thawing” the permafrost below (Anthony et al.,
2018; Bartels, 2018). This deeper, abrupt thawing has yet to be
included in current climate change models.
The thawing trend appears irreversible. While compliance with the
existing Paris Agreement commitments would stabilize permafrost
losses, the extent would still be 45 per cent below current values
(AMAP, 2017a).

Biocrude from algae without drying

[Following up to “The future is green … and salty” from 2010.]

According to “Engineers develop fast method to convert algae to biocrude

The team has created a new mixing extractor, a reactor that shoots jets of the solvent at jets of algae, creating a localized turbulence in which the lipids “jump” a short distance into the stream of solvent. The solvent then is taken out and can be recycled to be used again in the process. “Our designs ensure you don’t have to expend all that energy in drying the algae and are much more rapid than competing technologies,” notes Mohanty.

This technology could also be applied beyond algae and include a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, or any microbial-derived oil, says Mohanty.


“This is game-changing,” Pease says of their work on algae research. “The breakthrough technologies we are creating could drive a revolution in algae and other cell-derived biofuels development. The dream may soon be within reach.”

The price of wakefulness — neurons need sleep to repair DNA damage

According to Lior Appelbaum in “Sleep tight! Researchers identify the beneficial role of sleep: Sleep increases chromosome dynamics that clear out DNA damage accumulated during waking hours.

Despite the risk of reduced awareness to the environment, animals — ranging from jellyfish to zebrafish to humans — have to sleep to allow their neurons to perform efficient DNA maintenance, and this is possibly the reason why sleep has evolved and is so conserved in the animal kingdom.

The geopolymer artificial stones of Pumapunku

According to “Tiahuanaco Monuments (Tiwanaku / Pumapunku), Bolivia are made of geopolymer artificial stones created 1400 years ago

What is this technology mastered by the Tiwanakans? Artificial stones were formed as cement. But, it is not a modern cement, it is a natural geological cement obtained by geosynthesis. For this, they took naturally friable and eroded rock like red sandstone from the nearby mountain, on the one hand, and on the other hand, unconsolidated volcanic tuff from the nearby Cerro Kapia volcano in Peru to form andesite. They created cement either from clay (the same red clay that Tiwuanakans used for pottery) and sodium carbonate salts from Laguna Cachi in the Altiplano Desert to the south, to form red sandstone. For gray andesite, they invented an organo-mineral binder based on natural organic acids extracted from local plants and other natural reagents. This cement was then poured into molds and hardened for a few months. Without a thorough knowledge of geopolymer chemistry, which studies the formation of these rocks by geosynthesis, it is difficult to recognize the artificial nature of the stones. This chemistry is not a difficult science to master. It is an extension of the knowledge of Tiwanakans in ceramics, mineral binders, pigments and above all an excellent knowledge of their environment. Without the selection of good raw materials, these extraordinary monuments could not have been created 1400 years ago.

You can’t free your mind when it’s entrained by music

[Following up to “The mortal enemy of creativity is entertainment” from 2009.]

According to “How listening to music ‘significantly impairs’ creativity

To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving.

Mask-style microphones

In a cubicle, you can’t speak at a normal human volume into a telephone headset without disturbing your co-workers.

So why not a headset that drapes the mouth and nose with soundproofing material, letting air in/out from below, but muffling most of the sound and directing the rest downward? Signal processing ought to be able to correct for the echo and for sounds of breathing, and the final result would potentially be clearer than that from conventional headsets that can pick up noise from the environment.

Standards and innovation: Accellera’s Portable Stimulus Standard

According to “CEO Interview: Adnan Hamid of Breker Systems

Has Accellera’s Portable Stimulus Standard helped move the chip design verification community closer to adopting Portable Stimulus tools?
Oh yes, clearly. For a number of years, we have been working with power users who were unconcerned with developing models using the Breker proprietary language based on C++. Indeed, our original language is more advanced than the standard. It has procedural as well as declarative constructs, and our power users are still actively employing it. However, to allow mainstream users to enjoy the benefits of these tools, they had to be assured that models they develop could be supported by multiple vendors, and this is where the standard has proven useful. We have seen a significant uptick in our business from the mainstream market as a result of its release last June. We fully expect it to overtake other verification languages over the next few years as it matures.

“The day your vision … is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management.”

According to Richard Hamming

Question: Would you compare research and management?

Hamming: If you want to be a great researcher, you won’t make it being president of the company. If you want to be president of the company, that’s another thing. I’m not against being president of the company. I just don’t want to be. I think Ian Ross does a good job as President of Bell Labs. I’m not against it; but you have to be clear on what you want. Furthermore, when you’re young, you may have picked wanting to be a great scientist, but as you live longer, you may change your mind. For instance, I went to my boss, Bode, one day and said, “Why did you ever become department head? Why didn’t you just be a good scientist?” He said, “Hamming, I had a vision of what mathematics should be in Bell Laboratories. And I saw if that vision was going to be realized, I had to make it happen; I had to be department head.” When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management. And the bigger the vision is, the farther in management you have to go. If you have a vision of what the whole laboratory should be, or the whole Bell System, you have to get there to make it happen. You can’t make it happen from the bottom very easily. It depends upon what goals and what desires you have. And as they change in life, you have to be prepared to change. I chose to avoid management because I preferred to do what I could do single-handedly. But that’s the choice that I made, and it is biased. Each person is entitled to their choice. Keep an open mind. But when you do choose a path, for heaven’s sake be aware of what you have done and the choice you have made. Don’t try to do both sides.

Muscle: “Use it or lose it, until you work at it again.”

According to Lawrence M. Schwartz

It is well documented in the field of exercise physiology that it is far easier to reacquire a certain level of muscle fitness through exercise than it was to achieve it the first place, even if there has been a long intervening period of detraining. In other word, the phrase “use it or lose it” is might be more accurately articulated as “use it or lose it, until you work at it again.” This has been demonstrated directly by another experiment from the Gundersen lab that demonstrated that once a muscle has acquired new nuclei, it retains them long after the hypertrophic stimulus is removed. They induced muscle hypertrophy in female mice by treating them for 2 weeks with testosterone and then examined the muscles 3 weeks after steroid withdrawal (Egner et al., 2013). Muscle volume had returned to baseline but the newly acquired nuclei persisted even 3 months later. When the muscles were subjected to overloading to reinitiate hypertrophy, the steroid-treated ones rapidly underwent a 36% increase in fiber volume while control muscles only grew by 6%. These data suggest that the “surplus” nuclei could be mobilized rapidly to facilitate retraining.

These observations have potential implications for public health policy. It has been shown that muscle growth, physiological function, and regenerative capacity all decline with age, largely due to reduced satellite cell proliferation (Blau et al., 2015). Consequently, exercise during adolescence, when muscle growth is enhanced by hormones, nutrition and a robust satellite pool, might functionally serve to allow individuals to “bank” myonuclei that could be drawn upon later in life to slow the effects of aging and possibly forestall sarcopenia.