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Weekly review: Week ending September 19, 2014

Lots of work getting ready for a big event. =) Surprisingly still managed to get a lot of sleep, at the cost of giving up other discretionary activities. But it’s for a good cause, and it’s temporary anyway.

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

Wow, almost 60 hours of consulting. And lots of sleep, actually – 9.3 hours on average, with a 13-hour stretch on one of those days. Intense thinking makes my brain tired. =) Hardly any discretionary time, but that’s okay; sprint, not marathon. More delivered food than I’ve had the rest of the year, I think. So this is what my schedule looks like when I pare it down to the essentials so that I can focus on work…

  • Business (62.3h – 37%)
    • E1: Prepare for stuff
    • Earn: E1: Big event
    • Earn (57.5h – 92% of Business)
    • Build (3.4h – 5% of Business)
      • Drawing (1.9h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.1h)
      • Paperwork (1.4h)
    • Connect (1.3h – 2% of Business)
  • Relationships (4.6h – 2%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.8h – 1%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Pay Mastercard
    • Writing (1.3h)
  • Discretionary – Play (1.0h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (20.6h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (11.3h – 6%)
  • Sleep (65.4h – 38% – average of 9.3 per day)

Learning from the Alternative Uses Task

There’s a creativity test called the Alternative Uses Task, where you’re asked to come up with as many different uses as you can for an everyday object (for example, a paperclip or a brick). I was thinking about it recently because I was curious about programming and creativity, and how my clients sometimes tell me, “I had no idea XYZ could be used for that!” (Javascript, AutoHotkey, etc.). I like coming up with alternative uses when programming, and for things in general. I was wondering how I could get even better at divergent thinking based on what I can learn from the research into it.

From “Evaluating the Alternative Uses Test of Creativity” (Caitlin Dippo, National Conference on Undegraduate Research, 2013), I learned that while the first few responses tend to be pretty common, the more responses you make, the more you tend to come up with original ones. “Divergent thinking: strategies for generating alternative uses for familiar objects” (Gilhooly et. al, 2007) identified a number of strategies that people used when coming up with ideas: memory, property use (breaking it down into properties), broad use (looking at broad categories), and disassembly use (considering its parts). I also remembered the forced association tips from various creativity games – when you try to relate two different ideas together, your brain’s pretty good at filling in the gaps.

2014-09-10 Alternative Uses Task test

2014-09-10 Alternative Uses Task test

How can I use that to be more creative? Well, coming up with more answers helps – especially more different ones, not just variations on a theme. Elaborating on ideas and smooshing them together is fun, so I wonder how I can incorporate that kind of play into my learning – maybe through drawing, or brainstorming alternative uses for the tools and tech I have?

2014-09-10 Applying insights from the Alternative Uses Task Test and brainstorming research

2014-09-10 Applying insights from the Alternative Uses Task Test and brainstorming research

Hmm…

Programming and creativity

My client had been bringing me a constant stream of little technical challenges to solve. I pulled together different tools to make things happen: AutoHotkey, NodeJS, shared files, optical mark recognition, and so on. He said it was fun watching me figuring things out. It got me thinking about how programming can involve many different types of creativity. If you can tell the different types apart, you might be able to focus on improving some of those aspects.

2014-09-10 Programming - What does it mean to be creative?

2014-09-10 Programming – What does it mean to be creative?

Here’s a rough first pass:

  • Design: Probably the most obvious form of creativity in development, whether we’re talking about interfaces or architecture.
  • Imagining or anticipating needs: When people don’t even know what they’re missing
  • Imagining practical applications: Starting from the solution or from an available tool
  • Seeing gaps and being curious about possibilities: Maybe related to anticipating needs? More like, “Hmm, what if?”
  • Collecting components/capabilities and combining them: API functions, tools, etc. Like collecting puzzle pieces and then being able to dig up the right combination later on.
  • Making adapters: Smooshing different systems together.
  • Generating variants and other ideas: Coming up with different approaches, or coming up with variations on a theme.
  • Incorporating feedback and iterating effectively: Probably related to generating variants or shaping requirements, but also related to getting beyond vague requirements or too-concrete requirements.
  • Breaking things down and building a plan: Seeing the components and figuring out a good order.
  • Shaping requirements: Translating vague requirements/feedback or seeing past what people think they want.

Hmm…

Things to tweak or try this winter

Single digit temperatures have returned to the weather forecasts for Toronto, and people are starting to suit up in scarves. I even saw people wearing gloves. Winter is coming. Eventually. It’s not here yet, but I might as well get ready for it!

I’ve been accumulating quite a collection of winter tips and experiences. Last winter worked out pretty well. What will I try this year?

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

  • More consistent exercise
  • Growing plants indoors: the new Hacklab has a skylight, and I might be able to use the tiny window ledge in our bedroom too
  • Less consulting and more writing
  • Proper sewing: I’m going to get the hang of this eventually! It’s a good skill to have. I can work on finally finishing those box cushion covers.
  • Flashcards, learning: Japanese, Cantonese, Latin; development (maybe build Android apps?)
  • Lots of cooking and fresh meals
  • More vacuuming and tidying up, since I’ll be home
  • Hacklab, maybe twice or thrice a week?
  • More organized reading: book notes, sketches, blog posts
  • Regular sleep
  • New drawing workflow: index cards, sketchbook?

I think it’s time to get a new coat and a pair of winter boots. Oh well! I didn’t find anything I liked in last year’s end-of-season sales, so I guess I should probably reconcile myself to paying full price or close to it.

I liked last year’s idea of thinking in terms of longer nights, since I do tend to divide my activities into day (work, writing) and night (relaxing, drawing). Maybe I’ll play with that some more.

Hey, maybe the Canadian citizenship grant includes cold tolerance. Always wondered why W- and J- think ice cream season is all year long!

Dealing with feeling under the weather

I don’t get sick a lot. When I do, it’s such a relief to be able to take the time to sleep and recover, knowing that I don’t have to rush anywhere. I have a few firm commitments coming up in the next few weeks, so I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game then. It makes sense to take it easy now so that I can reduce the risk of missing out on important things. Besides, W- has my back, and we have a safety net. Even if we don’t get a lot of cooking done during the weekend, we can grab pizza or sushi for J- (since she prefers fresh meals) or dig into the meals we stashed in our freezer.

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

When you’re fuzzy-brained, thinking of options can be difficult. It can be good to think about the trade-offs, backup plans, and workarounds in advance. Knowing what I can swap out and what I need to do can help me get through these fuzzy times a little bit better.

Writing and drawing are a little more difficult during fuzzy times. I don’t feel like I’m writing anything particularly useful or interesting, and I catch myself repeating similar thoughts. Fortunately, I’ve given myself permission to be boring too. I think of these more as notes and raw material that I can collect for a future Sacha who might be able to make sense of things.

A time for all things!

Getting ready for my third fiscal year end

Okay. I might actually be getting the hang of this. =)

I’m the sort of person who actually looks forward to tax season. For my tiny company, I set it to September instead of December. That way, I can spread out doing my business taxes and my personal taxes.

I wanted to get a head start on preparing my taxes, especially since I switched to the HST Quick Method this year. After a little over two hours fiddling with my books (reconciling my statements, filling in the gaps, and figuring out quick method calculations), I feel reasonably certain that I’ll be able to do this year’s tax return myself, too. Based on my numbers, it looks like switching to quick method was worth it this year. (Better late than never!)

It was a pleasant surprise to find out that I’d earned the equivalent of almost a month of living expenses through pay-what-you-want e-book sales and $5 Helpouts. Thank you for your generosity! =D I’m looking forward to shifting time away from consulting and towards making more things that I can share with people.

Interest income added up, too, but not as much as equity investments would have. It might be time to learn how to pay myself dividends so that I can personally invest more into the market, or to sort out what holding investments in a corporation would be like.

Now that my trial run of taxes is done, I just have to wait for the final numbers to come in over the next few weeks. How exciting!