Accidentally in Code

Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

Website is finally up! Let me know what you think – www.catehuston.com

My blog has also relocated to www.catehuston.com/blog so please update your RSS.

Goals for this week were:

  • Finish putting together presentation, record and upload it. See it here.
  • Put together loop exercises for extra session with my DGD group.
  • Start CA Assignment 3 (this one will apparently be shorter) – aim for half done.
  • Marking.
  • Read 5 papers.
  • Join gym (physio says yoga and body pump allowed – finally!!) attended a body pump class, and it hurts… in a good way though, which is a nice change after weeks of injury pain!
  • Clear new email mountain.
  • Code new viz idea. Read about it here.
  • Ignite! Read about it here.

Crikey! I checked off everything. This never happens! I also:

  • Spent time with the people behind Betidings, working on their color-scheme (hopefully you’ll see some improvement to that soon).
  • Planned an introductory online Java/Processing workshop – you can read about it here and let me know if you want to participate.

Thanks to everyone who made this week so awesome / productive!

For next week:

  • Finish CA Assignment 3
  • Recreate conversational graphs from re-factored code
  • Create slide deck for introductory Java workshop
  • Read 5 papers
  • Go to the gym 3 times
  • Rename blog (taking suggestions!)
  • WISE coffee social
  • WECS meeting (Women in Engineering and Computer Science)
  • Work on website

Last week, and at the start of this week I was feeling really worn out and disillusioned. Things were taking longer than they should, and despite working a lot and effectively I really wasn’t making the progress I wanted to be. I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything. What this really means, is that on Monday I worked from around 8 in the morning to 11pm at night (- perhaps 2 hours) and yet didn’t cross anything off The List. Tuesday I started a little later, but ultimately didn’t cross anything off the list either. Or Wednesday.

I feel this real need to make progress, achieve something concrete, day in, day out. I’m aware that as a grad student there’s a risk of ending up at this place where you show up but nothing concrete happens, and this continues until you’ve been there for several years and people joke about whether you’re ever going to graduate.

I don’t want to be that person.

My far off goal, is finishing my thesis. It’s impossibly far away, and too large to conceptualize, so I have to break it into smaller, manageable tasks that mean I’ll make it, in increments. Like reading a paper a day. Coding a new visualization. Writing up all the papers I’ve read that are covered in notes into my work-in-progress. But then sometimes I end up spending a week on stuff that doesn’t help achieve these goals – like marking, or a ridiculously large assignment for the course I have to take. And then at the end of the week I look back and think, well I worked really hard, and I got this done, but in a months time (or even just another week) will anyone care? Will I care?

It’s frustrating. And so every day, I set myself an unrealistic list of tasks. If something (for example, the presentation we made this week) takes longer than expected and I don’t achieve them, the following day’s list is even more unmanageable. And it continues. This is why the “Week in Brief” and my “Goals” list are so helpful, because when I’m trying to do 10+ high level tasks in a week I have to give myself a reality check and admit, that’s never going to happen.

Setting goals that push me but don’t overwhelm me is something I’m working on. Because when I’m overwhelmed I’m not effective, I’m just overwhelmed. I’m not getting stuff done, I’m not motivated, I’m contemplating hiding from the world and wondering if everything would be OK if there were just 30 hours in the day. Panicking because I think I’ve missed an important appointment when I’ve in fact just misread my calendar.

The irony here? After all that stressing at the start of the week, there’s a chance I might just cross everything off the list this week.

Lesson? Start big tasks at the start of the week. Postpone smaller ones to the end of the week. Achieving large tasks motivates and inspires me to achieve the smaller ones. Vice versa does not work so well. Spend more time doing and less time scheduling.

For last week:

  • Finish CA Assignment 2
  • Read 5 papers
  • Code more on Viz
  • Write more on Thesis
  • Get SVN working fully
  • More on website
  • Clear giant e-mail mountain
  • Start tracking morning mood and exercise on Mycrocosm
  • Go to my first hockey game!

Also:

  • Cleaned out fridge
  • Swam butterfly again for the first time since I injured my knee (super happy about this!)
  • Spent a lot of time debugging other people’s code!
  • Met with the girls from WISE, hopefully we can get some stuff moving.

Another week where things took longer than they should have (CA Assignment), and plans were derailed (4 hour lab). I’m frustrated at how much I’m getting distracted by this kind of thing, and how it’s cutting into my quiet-focus-time which I need to work on big tasks. I haven’t had a completely clear day since last Monday, and won’t have another until next Monday. This is a problem.

For this week:

  • Finish putting together presentation, record and upload it.
  • Put together loop exercises for extra session with my DGD group.
  • Start CA Assignment 3 (this one will apparently be shorter) – aim for half done.
  • Marking.
  • Read 5 papers.
  • Join gym (physio says yoga and body pump allowed – finally!!)
  • Clear new email mountain.
  • Code new viz idea.
  • Ignite!

Goals for this week:

  • Read 8 papers
  • Create diagram in Visio see it here
  • Turn plan into slides for presentation put them up on this post
  • Get started with CA Assignment 2 Would have liked to get more done, but have answer for one question – 2 to go!
  • Deal with final issues from marking fiasco
  • Read 2 chapters of CA book
  • Set up new laptop and get important stuff syncing Nearly there, iDrive is in use, SVN set up, just need to work out how to access it.
  • Code more on my viz stuff – nothing coded but had important epiphany. Really need to get more done on this, this week.
  • Write more on thesis
  • More on website
  • Move to Google Calendar
  • Clear up apartment
  • Finish reading Tribes (Amazon)

I also:

  • Saw a lot of friends I hadn’t seen in a while
  • Met some new people!
  • Watched The Best Man (IMDb) – I rarely seem to find time to watch movies any more, I found this one pretty funny though. Only thing was, the main character had an Irish accent, and his best friend from childhood had a lousy American-doing-British-accent. Then the guy who lived in New York had a posh British accent and the women who he was marrying (who lived in London) had an American accent. So, that kinda distracted me!
  • Picked up some iKlean at the apple store.
  • Got my project proposal back with some helpful suggestions and positive comments.

For this week:

  • Finish CA Assignment 2
  • Read 5 papers
  • Code more on Viz
  • Write more on Thesis
  • Get SVN working fully
  • More on website.
  • Clear giant e-mail mountain.
  • Start tracking morning mood and exercise on Mycrocosm
  • Go to my first hockey game!

For November:

I’ve noticed that I tend to create my “Week in Brief” early in the week and keep track of what I want to achieve – I’m finding it helpful for my high-level goals, whereas I find my ToDo list more helpful for low level goals. So – I’ve decided to make my progress more public as well and created a new page on my blog called Goals which contains my list for the week and the month and I can cross things off as I go along. I’m hoping that by adding what I want to achieve this month I can stop putting the same tasks on my list each week and then pushing them back when more pressing things occur.

This post has been formulating in my head for a while now, as I thought how much I loved 7 Habits and The 4-Hour Work Week (Amazon) and all the other great stuff I’m reading. However there’s one question they don’t seem to answer – what if you have to work with someone who sucks?

I mean, the boss who makes a mistake, causes you more work, but never apologizes, or the one that makes you take the fall for his mistake? The one that calls you incessantly, at all hours and at the weekend until your partner begs you to quit? The person who screws up every small task, from booking a car or buying stationary, to transporting something from A to B? The guy who doesn’t run his code before committing it, and doesn’t know what a test case is? The coworker who’s been there 10 years but can’t write an SQL statement? The person who makes their ignorance your problem? The guy you’re continually covering for because his drinking is out of hand?

(Yes these are all situations that either I, or people I know have been in.)

Tribes is the first book to give me that answer. Here it is: make change happen.

And then I thought, what if it’s just a job, not a career?

So? Make change anyway.

I’ve been struggling a bit with the organization of WISE lately – I don’t feel like some people are committed and I’ve ended up micromanaging and I don’t want to! I think this book has given me the answer though – I need to have more faith in what I’m doing and in myself, and lead.

The thing about focusing on effectiveness, is that everything that I put on “the List” is something I think is important. And then if I get a little behind I end up in a situation where my todo list for today has a time estimate of over 11 hours. And then I panic.

Today I managed to convince myself that I’d forgotten my wallet. I spent half an hour waiting at the physio for my boyfriend to come by with his credit card (thankfully his office is across the road, but he was in a meeting). And then he rushed off and I walked home to find it. And I did – buried deep inside my backpack between my laptop and a pile of papers that I’ve been carting around for days but haven’t found the time to read.

By the time I got home I’d calmed down, and when I found my wallet I felt so stupid. I don’t, typically, see myself as a person who forgets important things. However I’d got so frazzled that I had believed it when emptying out my backpack would have shown me that no, I am not that person. I thought about concealing it from my boyfriend, but I opted not to. When I called him to confess, he laughed. For some reason he finds it endearing when I’m really dozy. I think it’s best not to question this.

Getting overwhelmed is something I need to focus on. When everything is important I don’t prioritize as well as I should do. My “List” is a mix of things that need to happen today, with things that make long-term easier. Such as reading a paper every day – I don’t need to do that today, but when I have to do something like write a project proposal (like I did last week) it only took a couple of hours because I’d laid all the ground work ahead of time – in the piles of annotated papers on my desk and the references organized (with notes) in Zotero.

So, he’s my plan for staying calm and getting on with things. Because one thing is for sure, when I’m overwhelmed and freaking out, I’m not being productive!

  1. Breathe
  2. Do what’s possible, starting with things that need to happen today
  3. Forgive myself for taking a break (I needed it!)

I have a problem – I now have 4 computers. Yes, I realize this is a problem that many people wish they had, but still. I have:

  • MacBook Aircarry about at university and use out and about, use for notes, reading stuff, and small amounts of development and document editing.
  • 15″ MacBook Prouse mostly at home unless need to get a lot of work done. More development and document editing.
  • Mac MiniMostly used as a backup system and multimedia centre. Static, so useful for running long processes.
  • Windows PCin my office at university. Mostly used for things that require a Windows PC (marking). May want to run long processes involving a large amount of API calls.

Up until now I’ve managed by segregating the things I use each machine for. So I use the mini for web development (CS3 will not run on my Air!), the university machine for… pretty much nothing, and the Air for everything else. It’s not been a great system, but it’s been manageable. With the arrival of the Pro, that is no longer the case. I’m going to have to be able to work on the same document on my Pro and my Air, and I don’t want to be keeping track of what’s where.

So I’ve come up with a strategy, which I’ve outlined below. Nothing is fixed yet, though, so I’d welcome tips as to how you manage your data across multiple machines if you do. It’s obviously important to me that I come up with an effective way to do this – the point of the Pro was to increase my productivity as the Air just runs too slowly sometimes. I don’t want to spend the time I save on file management!

1. Move as much as possible to the cloud.

My email has been in the cloud for a long time now, of course. However I recently migrated my ToDo list (Remember the Milk) which is working out great as it also syncs to my iPod Touch. For references, I use Zotero, which also syncs to the cloud. I’m going to move my calendar to Google Calendar and work on small documents in Google Docs (all our stuff for WISE is in Docs).

2. Set up a SVN for code

Yes, I should have this already. But when I was only developing on one computer I never got around to it. Now I hope to develop on at least two, it’s crucial to get this sorted out. So I need to go through each of my workspaces, tidy them up, and put the stuff I need in a repository that will run on the Mini.

3. Mobile Me

This is a temporary solution. One year of this with a new machine was about $60-$70. This makes the need to set up a repository for my home director less pressing (a good article about the best system to use for this is here). SVN is less practical because of the overhead, so I’ll either use Mercurial or Git (whichever is easiest to set up on a Mac). Also, right now, it’s not practical to have all my documents in Google Docs as some of them are too large and there’s the need to edit offline. This time next year though, I’ve no doubt I will have way more options.

Last week my goals were:

  • Write more on thesis not as much as I wanted, but some progress
  • Create slides for presentation – made plan, have a good idea of what I want to do
  • CA Project plan (need to find out what this entails)
  • WISE event
  • Write survey for other project – on hold until my supervisor gets back
  • Keep working on Twitter Viz, maybe look for a new viz toolkit.

Last week was in some ways a write-off. I was miserable and strung out because of my TA job – after all the marking I did the week before (all Sunday afternoon and most of the evening) the Prof had made a mistake with the login he sent me, so that was all for nothing and I had to mark another group. And, as he didn’t mention this mistake when he sent me another username and password, I didn’t realize this had happened – until Wednesday when my marks had to be submitted Thursday morning. There was various other stuff, including a barrage of complaints from students about the marking scheme (I have no power! I have no power!) which meant by Friday I was really upset.

But then I spent the weekend in Boston, and whilst I’m slightly overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I’ve come back to and still feeling slightly motion sick from the 8 hour car journey, I really needed the break. And, I’ve finished reading Stumbling on Happiness (Amazon) – wonderful, insightful book. I’m not any happier, but at least I know why. And maybe it gives me some tools to make better predictions of what will make me happier in the future.

So, for this week:

  • Read 8 papers
  • Create diagram in Viseo
  • Turn plan into slides for presentation
  • Get started with CA Assignment 2
  • Deal with final issues from marking fiasco
  • Read 2 chapters of CA book
  • Set up new laptop and get important stuff syncing.
  • Code more on my viz stuff
  • Write more on thesis
  • More on website
  • Move to Google Calendar
  • Clear up apartment
  • Finish reading Tribes (Amazon)

Goals for this week were:

  • Next Twitter Visualization (super excited about this)
  • CA Project outline
  • Read 5 papers
  • Marking 😥
  • Move ToDo Lists over to Remember The Milk
  • Write more on thesis, get to the point where papers can be integrated
  • Write survey for other project (more soon!)
  • 3 blog posts

I also:

  • Worked on next week’s WISE event
  • Got a page of my website mostly done
  • Annoyed prof by coding my assignment in Haskell
  • Had to redo part of my assignment, not in Haskell (really annoyed about this)
  • Played with Adobe’s Flex Builder 3
  • Moved onto Adobe Flash builder 4
  • Hated both of them, hence lack of new Viz (they are buggy with next to no error reporting. I’ve already crashed Flash builder twice).
  • Applied for Curriculum Development again
  • Submitted the abstract for a presentation I’m giving October 30th.

It’s really been a frustrating week with things coming up and needing to be done (like redoing the question in my assignment) and taking longer than expected (Flex/Flash Builder, marking – tried it on both Macs before I discovered that I had to use a Windows PC for the macros in the marking sheet to work – which meant Sunday at school). I’m loving Remember the Milk, though!

For this week:

  • Write more on thesis
  • Create slides for presentation
  • CA Project plan (need to find out what this entails)
  • WISE event
  • Write survey for other project
  • Keep working on Twitter Viz, maybe look for a new viz toolkit.

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