On this page:

Reflecting on motives

I’ve been thinking about motives and bigger dreams lately. I have a good foundation for experiments, and I probably should be building something bigger on top of it. But I don’t resonate with the entrepreneurial stories of passion and focus. I don’t start with a vision of how the world should be and then work backwards from there in order to make it reality. I don’t dream of dollars or media mentions when starting an experiment. So if those aren’t the things that get me going, what does?

2014-10-21 Exploring my current motives

2014-10-21 Exploring my current motives

A couple of recent decisions are helping me learn more about my motives. Over dinner, one of the Hacklab board members asked me if I would consider helping with bookkeeping, since the current volunteer was struggling with some of the work. After some deliberation, I agreed to help out. I noticed that my reasons for doing so were primarily because I felt Hacklab board had good people in it, and that solid financial information could help us navigate this somewhat precarious period.

On another note, I’m wrapping up the consulting engagement I’ve been working on for the past two and a half years. I said yes to that primarily because the person who asked me had good karma. He had helped me get into and make the most of IBM, so I wanted to help him and his team as well.

These two decisions helped me realize how strongly I’m motivated by helping specific people, versus being motivated by a grand vision, the desire to help a general class of people, or other reasons. I hadn’t realized the extent before, but now that I look closely, I can see how it plays out. I like prototyping because I can quickly build things with lots of feedback from people who will actually be using the tools. I like automation because I can save specific people time and effort. I like helping people with Emacs because of the individual quirks of their workflows.

I do have other motives, too. Sometimes I do things out of curiosity and because they tickle my brain. Tracking data and tweaking Emacs for myself belong to this category. Sometimes I do things because I think they will be useful, like writing and drawing.

I feel like I have small-m motives rather than the big-M Motives you read about in the biographies of people who change the world. I like working on a small, personal scale. Does that mean I should just focus on small dreams, gradually growing them in size? Are these motives something I can tinker with, work around, or transform into even better strengths?

2014-10-22 People who follow similar motivations well

2014-10-22 People who follow similar motivations well

Fortunately, I can look around me for role models living good lives following similar motivations. My parents also seem highly motivated by helping specific people. For example, my dad wanted to help one boy with autism who was interested in photography. That grew into a large initiative called Photography with a Difference. He’s also motivated by curiosity and crazy ideas, like the way he decided to go on a cross-country ultralight flight. My mom was once asked about passion and work. She replied, “John’s passion is photography. My passion is John.” She focused on building an advertising photography business so that my dad could do amazing things behind the camera. W- seems motivated by helping specific people, too, and he also focuses on doing things well. Many of my friends who are into programming are into it because of curiosity and the joy of creation (it helps that it pays the bills, too!). On my best days, I do what I do because I get to help specific people, follow my curiosity, and build resources that might be useful.

So if you can live a good life even with “small-scale” motives like this (compared to, say, the desire to reshape the world), what does that mean for me? How can I make things a little bit better? And–just to play with the idea–what would it be like if I had different motives?

2014-10-21 Reflecting on my primary motives

2014-10-21 Reflecting on my primary motives

I’m not strongly influenced by everyone, but since I do have that desire to help specific people, I can be deliberate about the people I spend time with and include in this consideration. It works out well if helping people out also helps me build skills and resources. It also works out well if I can expand to a group of good people, so I’m not anchored by only one person. For example, having gotten to know the rest of the team during my consulting gig, I feel like they’re also good people I’m happy to help.

I want to balance the people motive, though. This is such a strong pull on my brain, and it’s so tempting to work on other people’s tasks instead of following my own curiosities or developing my own things. I can de-emphasize this by being selective about the tasks I take on, picking the things that are best-aligned to what I want to learn or do anyway. I can also carve off time for self-directed interests, since I’ll probably benefit from training myself to get even better at following curiosity and making things I can build on later.

It would probably be very difficult to swap out my motives, going from concrete to abstract, even if it would theoretically be interesting to do so. Ah well. I’ll start by working with what I have, but it might be interesting to see if I can experiment with being an Alternate Universe Sacha just in case I discover I actually like it.

Anyway, what kinds of things do I want to be able to do with slightly tweaked motives?

2014-10-22 What would I like to be able to do with sustained motivation

2014-10-22 What would I like to be able to do with sustained motivation

I think it would be interesting to play around with Emacs, open source, and other tools, getting the hang of building more resources. It would probably be good to be able to fully enjoy DIY skills (including sewing) and other things that are good for me, like exercise. If I can notice things about these activities that line up with the things that currently motivate me — or tweak my motivations so that I like more of the things that are good for me — maybe that will make this stuff easier to do and easier to stick with.

Hmm…

Sleep as Android

Following W-‘s example (I’m such a copycat!), I’ve been trying out a few sleep-related applications on my phone. I get more sleep than he does and my schedule is pretty flexible, but I figure that an app might let me swap out the diminishing returns of sleeping in for some extra discretionary time. For a while, I ran Sleep as Android in parallel with SleepBot, and I also tried each of them separately. I used a sturdy, extra-long USB cable to charge my phone, and I slept with my phone under my pillow.

Both apps seem to agree with each other on the motion they detect, and they also appear to do a decent job of distinguishing between my motion and W-‘s motion (we have different-looking graphs). I’m not sure if there’s a significant difference, but I prefer Sleep as Android’s timing, so I bought it after the trial ended.

I also like Sleep as Android’s way of gradually waking me up with short buzzes, gradually leading up to an audio alarm. I like buzzes because they feel more discreet. I don’t have to feel guilty about interrupting W-‘s sleep.  They also don’t lead to overexposure to whatever tones I picked for my alarm. I’d previously used the built-in Medieval Jaunt and songs like Shonen Knife’s Cookie Day, and those still result in an odd tug on my concentration whenever I hear them.

I’m still not keen on morning meetings, but I can make them with less grumbling now!

Microsoft Excel: Converting a summary table / crosstab back into data rows

I recently wanted to transform a summary table of the form:

2014-10-15 20_36_58-Microsoft Excel - Book2

into a table with rows of (activity, date, value) so that I could add columns for year and month and then analyze the data using a pivot table.

It turns out that you can do this with another pivot table, yay! I followed this tutorial to convert my summary columns into data rows using Microsoft Excel 2010.

  1. Press Alt-D, P to get to the secret pivot table wizard that’s different from the one you get from Insert > Pivot table.
  2. Choose Multiple consolidation ranges. Click Next.
  3. Choose I will create the page fields. Click Next.
  4. Select the range and add it. Go through the rest of the wizard to create a pivot table.
  5. Remove the row and column fields.
  6. Double-click on the total.

You should now see a table with the data from your crosstab.

2014-10-15 20_43_25-Microsoft Excel - Book2

Neato! Pivot tables are even cooler than I thought.

Weekly review: Week ending October 17, 2014

We spent most of this weekend shopping for winter coats. W- and I are both on the smallish side, so it can be difficult to find things in our sizes later in the season. I bought a waterproof 3-in-1 jacket and a compatible down jacket that zips into the outer shell. I’m also experimenting with replacing my belt bag with a vest that has lots and lots of pockets. So far, this is working out well. W- hasn’t been able to find a coat that he’s happy with, though, so the search continues.

It’s also been a week for get-togethers: celebration dinners at work, Thanksgiving and anniversary dinners with family, other get-togethers with friends… The Hacklab launch party is this weekend, and I’m looking forward to helping with that. =)

Oh! And I bumped into a Hacklab member who’s learning R and who had good things to say about the Coursera course, so now I’m trying that. I still have a hard time sitting still for lectures, so instead I focus on taking the quizzes and doing the programming projects.

Lots of learning and connecting!

Blog posts

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (39.4h – 23%)
    • Earn (25.1h – 63% of Business)
      • E1: Attend celebrations
      • Interview potential accountant/bookkeeper
      • E1: Pick up pass
      • E1: Update analytics
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (4.2h – 10% of Business)
      • Drawing (0.9h)
      • Delegation (1.2h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (10.0h – 25% of Business)
      • Plan for office hours
  • Relationships (12.4h – 7%)
    • Attend Jade’s party
    • Get more kitchen things
    • Go to Thanksgiving thing
    • Help look for winter coat
    • Make egg tarts
    • Repackage spices in mason jars
  • Discretionary – Productive (4.4h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Buy winter coat
    • Have massage
    • Re-set-up dev environment for Quantified Awesome
    • Get passport pictures
    • Start working on kitchen organizer
    • Writing (2.5h)
  • Discretionary – Play (9.6h – 5%)
  • Personal routines (20.4h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (23.1h – 13%)
  • Sleep (58.8h – 35% – average of 8.4 per day)

Sometimes – often – I don’t feel like making conversation

My default state is quiet. I rarely listen to music while I work, unless I need to make it easier to ignore background conversations. I often find one-on-one conversations awkward. I like group conversations because other people can tell stories or ask questions, and I can dip into or out of the conversation when I want. So Hacklab tends to work for me, since there are occasionally good group conversations there, and people are friends with each other.

2014-10-06 Sometimes - often - I don't feel like making conversation

2014-10-06 Sometimes – often – I don’t feel like making conversation

I started to write a blog post about preparing for winter, something along the lines of being less social because of the activation costs of having to put on coats and take the subway instead of the bike. But I started looking at the numbers from my time tracking (counting both business-related and social non-family connecting time), and I’ve actually been less social in summer. I suppose it makes sense – meetups go on hiatus, people have other plans, and I’m off enjoying quiet time gardening or biking.

2014-10-15 20_25_51-Microsoft Excel - Book2

So maybe this fall and winter will be more social after all. Maybe I’ll make it out to Hacklab once or twice a week, and maybe I’ll start checking out meetups again. It’s good to practice connecting with people in person — although it’s certainly quite tempting to stay home, too. I have the sneaky suspicion that these online conversations might even be more worthwhile and longer-lasting. Still, there’s time to experiment with things, so why not?

More lessons learned from the recent sprints

Now that we’re (mostly) done with the conference and the major system upgrade, I could relax and go back to my old schedule of working a few days a week. But this consulting contract is winding down soon, so it also makes sense for me to spend the extra time helping team members learn, polishing up prototypes, and braindumping as many notes as I can into the internal social network. The more of my brain I can externalize, the more other people can build on, and the easier it will be to pick it up again even after some delay.

The next week or two won’t have as much of a workload as we had during the conference. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being super-intense (cutting into sleep), I’d say that the conference was probably around 8: I managed to do lots of work and get enough sleep, but I didn’t do much else. These next few weeks will probably be around 5-7. I can still help out with things at home and with Hacklab and I’m totally okay with spending a little time playing video games (W- and I are currently playing Persona 3), but I’m holding off on personal projects until I have more brainspace.

Anyway, for the next time that I need to prepare for intense days (something like 8-10 on that scale), here’s something I drew in mid-September. I’ve updated it with notes on how things actually worked out.

2014-09-15 Preparing for intense days

2014-09-15 Preparing for intense days

  • Avoid long stretches of work. Coding is better when well-rested.
    • This worked out okay. I coded a lot, but I switched between coding different types of things.
  • Go to bed early. Get 8.5-9 hours of sleep; more if you anticipate anxiety.
    • Yup! Managed to get plenty of sleep.
  • Pick one thing. Focus on it.
    • Mostly managed this.
  • Minimal computer or phone use in the evening. Draw instead, as a way of braindumping/thinking. Index cards can be useful for jotting down thoughts.
    • As you can see, I’m still processing the notes from then. =)
  • Minimal socializing – use the time to recharge and prepare the foundation. Spend time with W- taking care of things. Guiltlessly reschedule other things.
    • Worked out well. Substituted money for time when it came to Hacklab.
  • It’s okay to take the subway instead of biking to work – minimize risk
    • I even took a few cabs! Boggle.
  • Still go jogging with W- when weather and schedule permit; if not, do exercise ladder at home.
    • I want to reestablish this habit. Not ingrained yet.
  • Eat freezer meals; get takeout if necessary. (Or frozen lunches from stores as stopgaps? They’re not as nice, though.) Bulk-cook easy recipes (rice & lentils, congee, curry).
    • We ended up ordering pizza a few times. At work, people had food delivered too. It was nice to return to home-cooked meals, though!
  • Keep the end in mind (reason and number of days).
    • That was helpful. =)

I don’t often go on work sprints like that, but it’s nice to know our lifestyle can handle it!