Email History

I came across this neat article in WIRED a couple months ago by Stephen Wolfram (the man who brought you Mathematica, WolframAlpha...). In it, Dr Wolfram discusses some of the impressive and mildly obsessive amounts of data about himself that he has kept for over 10 years. It's a fascinating look at how we truly can be statistical beings.

He naturally makes some dandy plots to showcase this information. The first figure in the article, showing the date vs time of day for every email since 1990, really caught my eye and I've wanted to make it ever since.

Alas, I did not have the resources available to the good Dr Wolfram, and have not been able to keep my entire academic email history. GMail promised such a revolution, to "Never Delete Emails", and I have every message sent through that service since late 2005 still online. I am in the process of downloading them all. Until my GMail finishes downloading, I decided to just make the figure with what I had available on my laptop: my academic email for the last year.

This is my recreation of that super-neat figure, showing the time of day that I send emails. Even with my limited number of emails, this is a really cool figure! Most of the early AM email spurts are from days when I'm observing. I otherwise appear to be a regular creature of habit, at least with my work email.  Let's dive in just a little further...

Here I very simply show the histogram of how many emails I sent each day of the week. I try to take Saturdays off, and you can literally see the burn-out happening Thursday-Friday.

Here we have the normalized cumulative distribution of emails, showing the running total of emails normalized to 1. Besides the artifact on the first day in 2011, when I first set up the new UW email server on my laptop, the rate of email has been surprisingly constant/linear!

Lastly, here is a histogram of when I send email throughout the day. This highlights my daily routine: Sleep around 1 AM, up at 7-8, lunch around 12:30, dinner at around 7pm (19:00).

My takeaway message: I have been doing a good job of keeping a regular schedule for the past year, something I struggled with at times in college, and is often a problem for graduate students. This last year has been the first time since I was 6 years old that I have not taken classes, and I was justifiably concerned with my ability to keep a regular schedule of waking up early and working. These results are encouraging... now if only I could plot how much actual work I've been able to do as a function of time. That might be a less enjoyable result. In the finest academic tradition, I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

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