This month, holy crap this month has been just
For an unemployed person, I'm pretty busy.
The first week of the month I was sprinting on the Legends of Hanyu code trying to get teacher features done in time for Sushu to show it off at a teacher conference. Partial success -- got a lot done, not as much as I would like.
Second week of the month I was doing a week-long statistical modeling / data analysis task for a startup I really like. I was one of a couple candidates they were considering hiring, and they offered this task as a way of letting me prove my abilities. In the process I learned a bunch about applied stats and data mining. That was pretty cool. But I didn't get the job, and I really wanted to work for them, so this was a bummer.
Ah well. If I never failed, it would mean I was sticking to things that are too easy for me.
There has also been... well, read Sushu's dreamwidth for details. It's been hard on both of us emotionally and hard on her physically.
If you follow my twitter you noticed I made some pretty angsty and depressed tweets the last couple of days. I'm worried I might be slipping back into depression. But this time I've decided to talk about it and reach out to people instead of withdrawing and trying to keep it secret.
Jinghua (my old boss from Mozilla) saw my tweets, got worried about me, and called me up to check on me. She's really sweet! She suggested meeting up for dinner that night with the Mozilla user research team (including Gregg who was visiting from Minnesota that day). We had shabu-shabu. It was really good to see them again. Man, for all the things that made me decide to leave Mozilla, I really do love the people I got to work with there. It will be hard to find such good co-workers anywhere else.
This week I wrote and thumbnailed a ten-page comic. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you guys: I pitched a comic idea to this anthology of science fiction short stories set in San Francisco, and it was accepted! The final pages are due on April 1, so I'll be drawing and inking like a maniac all next week to try to meet that deadline.
Even with all the deadlines that landed this month, the job hunt doesn't stop. Sushu's school is looking for a new math/computer-science teacher, so I went in and observed a class on Thursday to see if it's something I might be interested in. (Answer: probably not.) Next I'm trying to set up interviews with some companies involved in building the "smart electric grid".
March was also the month when, out of the blue, I had chances to reconnect at least five different friends who I haven't seen in years. All independently. That was great!
Oh yeah and I went hang-gliding, and played taiko in front of thousands of people at a baseball game. Somehow that happened while all this other stuff was going on.
On the 30th I'm flying to New York City to meet a bunch of people there, then road-trip (or possibly Amtrak) through Connecticut visiting friends and relatives on my way to the big Chinese teacher conference in Boston.
Playing taiko at a baseball game today
OK so later today Emeryville Taiko will be performing between innings at a baseball game at the Giants stadium in San Francisco.
This will be my first performance wearing the full traditional, formal taiko outfit. Which looks like this:
Oh hell yeah. I feel so manly! Everybody will get to see my tattoos.
They told me this apron thing is a "Donburi", which is weird because I thought donburi only meant a rice bowl with fried stuff on top. I guess it's a taiko slang thing, like how we say "Ohayo gozaimasu" at the start of practice no matter what time of day it is.
I've never been to a baseball game before. Since baseball is kind of boring. But playing taiko... is awesome!
A few years in Silicon Valley cured me of my computer obsession. Just like a few years in Japan cured me of my anime fandom. And a few years... wait, no, ONE trip to GenCon cured me of ever again wanting to call myself a "gamer" or belong to "gamer culture".
I still play games, program computers, and sometimes read a Japanese comic. But these are things I do, not things I "am".
There's a pattern here. Possible explanations:
1. I satisfied my curiosity, now I'm ready to move on.
2. I'm a hipster and when I see too many other people enjoying something, it makes me stop enjoying it out of sheer contrarianism.
3. Life is a series of disillusionments that happen one after another as you discover the flaws in your childhood heroes and the seedy underbelly of communities you once respected.
4. Defining yourself by subcultural identification ("I am a..." statements: "I am a hacker/gamer/otaku/geek etc") is inherently problematic because it abdicates responsibility for the hard work of constructing your own personality by deferring to a group identity, AND makes you less able to think rationally about that group because your self-esteem now depends on defending the group from criticism... and I've gained enough maturity that saying "I am a..." no longer appeals.
5. I've just gotten less into geeky stuff as I got older, no special explanation needed, and I'm way overthinking this.
This is a follow-up to a post I wrote a few years ago called The Five Demons of Procrastination.
(Somebody named "John Smith" found that post and has added on a series of comments which is now much longer than the original post! John, I'm glad what I wrote was helpful to you, and you're of course welcome to keep commenting here, but I really think you should start your own blog -- more people will read that than read my comments section!)
Anyway, this is sort of a follow-on post to that. I've been trying out a new time-management tactic and it's working out great so far.
Especially important since I'm working on my own for the time being. There's nobody to impose structure on my day except myself. Self-imposed discipline is the difference between a productive week of adding features to Studio Xia, Lovebird, etc and a week of laying on a beanbag surfing the internet and feeling terrible about myself.
So what I do now is keep a giant text file called timelog.txt. Here's the entry for yesterday:
7:30 - 9 studioxia bug #78
9 - 9:45 waste time on internet, bike to philz
9:45 - 10:45 studioxia bug #78
10:45 - 11 bike home from philz
11 -12 studioxia bug #78
12 - 2 lunch, accordion, assemble Iron Fang Pikemen
2 - 4 studioxia bug #78
4 - 4:30 assemble Beast09
4:30 - 6:20 studioxia bug #78
6:25 - 7:25 dinner at TOFU HOUSE
7:30 - 11 Studioxia bug #78
11- 12:15 Accordion, snuggles with Sushu, assemble Beast09
12:15 - 1:45 Studioxia bug #78
Here's the important parts of timelogging:
- First I break a task into managable sized pieces. E.g. I'm currently trying to get the Studio Xia Chinese game ready for Sushu to show off at a teacher confefrence next week. But "Get the Chinese game ready to show off" is too big, so I broke it into individual bugs/ feature request tickets in GitHub.
- I estmate how long each piece is going to take, and write it down. My time estimates are noted for each bug in GitHub. From this I can see just how terrible I am at estimating: I predicted Bug #78 would take 3 hours, but I worked on it for more than 12 hours yesterday alone (and I'm still working on it today).
- During the day, I block out a chunk of time dedicated to a sub-task (2 hours is a convenient length) and record it ahead of time in timelog.txt. Like at 2 I might write down "2-4 studioxia bug #78". If I don't end up working that long I'll correct timelog.txt later. But I find that pre-recording my planned stopping time is really helpful for planning ahead.
- When my planned work block ends, I force myself to break away from work, even if I'm on a roll, or even if I haven't gotten anything done. Ending when I'm on a roll makes actually look forward to getting back to work.
- Ending when I haven't gotten anything done limits the damage that my procrastination can do. I've had procrastination about a particularly unpleasant task consume whole days before. Much better to give up after only wasting 2 hours, and go do something else, than keep unfruitfully trying to force myself to do it until I've burned up the whole day. Also, stepping away and doing something else lets me examine the reasons why I'm procrastinating (for instance: maybe I actually haven't defined the task as well as I thought I had). Next time I schedule a block for that task, I'll be more aware of what didn't work.
- When the work block ends, write down what I actually did. If I ended up looking at porn on the internet for an hour instead of working on bug #78, I write that down in timelog.txt. It feels really bad to write "9-10pm procrastinated by reading random tumblrs" in timelog.txt. That encourages me to get something done during the time block so I don't have to write down that I wasted it.
- When the work block's done, take a break! Just like I pre-record the work block, I pre-record a length of time for goofing off in timelog.txt. (After the break, adjust the file to what I actually did.)
- During breaks, do something fun that I really want to be doing, guilt-free. Preferrably something AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Lately I've been wanting to get my Warmachine minis fully painted, and I want to learn to play "Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis" on the accordion, so during breaks I'm usually either assembling/painting minis or practicing accordion. Also, I try to get out of the house and take a bike ride during at least one of these breaks each day. If I don't have anywhere else to go, I'll ride to Philz, a nearby coffee shop with free wi-fi.
Important point here: One of the ways I waste time on the internet is by reading gaming forums, which is generally one of the lowest value ways to be spending time. If I think about why I'm reading those forums, it's not only to avoid working on something boring; it's also a substitute for the gaming/painting I really want to be doing.
By actually doing some gaming-related stuff during the break, I satisfy that desire in a much more productive way, which kills the urge to read forums as a substitute.
By alternating between e.g. working on Studio Xia bugs with working on minis, I actually get *more* done on Studio Xia than I would have if I tried to force myself to work on it all day; AND I get minis painted. And it works because it drastically reduces the amount of time I waste on the internet, replacing it with productive activity of one kind or another.
The negative approach, telling myself "don't websurf", has never worked too well. The positive approach, of structuring work so I'm not tempted to websurf, seems to work a lot better.
The only way I'm going to get to do even half of the things I want to do in life is to make myself into a dramatically more productive individual! I hope if I keep up this timelogging long enough it will become an ingrained habit and I'll be able to shift myself to a more productive equilibrium.
Hideous Public Sculptures of Palo Alto
I call it "the car on chubby baby legs"
Eh, I guess let's just pile some cubes on top of each other and call it art?
"I've got a great idea! Let's make a rag doll with a disturbing human face in its belly."
A close-up on that expression of terror.
Egg covered in circuit boards. Because the egg is, like, the SYMBOL of CREATION... or something.
According to the plaque, the text on this random-looking collection of signs was generated by asking people "What will be on this spot 100 years from now?"
Some kind of... slanty... maze-like... trident-thing... look, I can't even make a joke about this one, it's too boring.
These rings are mounted on swively-things so sometimes they move up and down. Wheee.
Pictures from hang-gliding
The field full of cows south of Hollister, CA where we went hang-gliding today.
Boriss getting ready to take off.
Boriss was doing tow-launches today. There's a motorized winch hooked to a long cable, which reels in the glider very fast. Like a kid running with a kite on a string, this propels the glider up into the air very rapidly.
... and then the cable lets go and you just soar. She disappeared above the clouds and didn't reappear for many minutes.
When I heard "let's go hang-gliding", of course what I imagined was jumping straight off a sheer cliff above the ocean, or something.
Nothing like that. I joined a newbie class with eight or so other beginners. They started us on a gentle grassy hill, something you might sled down in the winter.
We'd take turns running down the hill and briefly leave the ground (or not) for a few seconds before landing again. It was a great, non-scary way to get started.
Here's me, getting ready to try it. The guy in the red shirt is Dave, our teacher for the day.
He taught me how to avoid the most common newbie mistakes. "Walk, then jog, then stride", he said. Most people launching for the first time will instinctively stop running and try to jump when they feel the lift under the wing. It doesn't work that way; if you stop running you'll just fall down. You have to keep running while the glider picks you up.
The other thing that's easy to do wrong at first is to grip the bars too tightly. When people realize they're leaving the ground they tend to grab on for dear life. But there's no need; the harness on your back is what's holding you up, and grabbing the bars in a death-grip will just make the glider stall. You have to force yourself to relax and use a very gentle touch.
By my second or third try I was flying. It feels really great! When I was a kid and I had dreams of flying, they always started with me running and jumping off the top of a hill or a staircase or something. Hang-gliding feels exactly like those dreams.
I was expecting to wipe out a lot today, but I mostly landed on my feet.
There were a lot of cow pies in this field. I managed to dodge them, but I saw one guy land right in one. Gross!
A hang glider is something like a tent -- you take out the poles holding it rigid and then the whole thing folds up into a narrow tube shape and zips up inside a bag.
It was a ton of fun! I am tempted to start doing this semi-regularly and get good at it, so I can do towed launches or jump off mountains or whatever.
Hang gliding tomorrow
It's been like 3 weeks since I first caught the flu, and even though I've been out and about for the last week, and I'm pretty sure I'm no longer contagious, I still have a lingering sore throat and cough.
Berkeley didn't accept my application :-( but! Good news: I've been having a series of interviews with a startup company in the renewable-energy field which I'm pretty excited about. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, tomorrow morning I'm going with Boriss, a friend from Mozilla, to take my first hang-gliding lesson. Huzzah!