January 27, 2008

Bulk view

Time management and work boundaries


[Never Wrestle With A Pig]:

McCormack addresses time management here, making several astute points. The biggest one – and the one that I see many people not actually doing – is to set a very strict time for leaving work and sticking to it. Doing that ensures two things: one, that you have adequate time for personal growth and rest so that, two, during the time you’re actually there, you can be highly productive. I’ve seen people burn the midnight oil quite often – it works fine for a little while, but they usually wind up exhausted, underproductive, and bitter about things, none of which are helpful for your career.

The Simple Dollar – Review: Never Wrestle With A Pig
I’m in my twenties, and this is supposed to be when I focus almost exclusively on my career, put in the long hours, and do whatever I need to do in order to get on the fast track and stay there. That might work for other people, but I don’t think it would work for me. I need the space for growth and rest, and there are other important things in life. I’ll work hard when it’s time to work, and I’ll invest time in developing other areas of my life as well.

Speech recognition – a month of fun

I hadn’t expected speech recognition to be this much fun. Something magical happens when I take my fingers off the keyboard. I give myself permission to talk in an unstructured way. Instead of looking down at my laptop monitor, I find myself looking up imagining myself talking to a friend. I’m free to use gestures, turning an idea over and over, trying to grasp what I want to say. And most surprising of all, I can feel the difference when I can hear my own enthusiasm. That clues me into the topics I want to talk about.

I tried this before with a voice recorder. I never found the time to listen to myself again, trying to pick out my words against the background of subway announcements and crowd chatter. Somehow, working with the computer changes things. Dragon NaturallySpeaking skips over my silences, successfully transcribes many of the words even in a rapid-fire brain dump, and breaks apart the phases of seeking out what I want to say, figuring out how to say it, and editing it into something that makes sense.

I don’t use it all the time. I’m a little self-conscious about talking to my computer when there’s somebody else in the room. (At this,  W- smiles at me.) I still carry a portable voice recorder, but because my recorder doesn’t do any noise cancellation, I find the easiest way is to re-dictate the interesting parts. But I appreciate the freedom that dictation gives me. I don’t know if I work any faster or slower with it, but I do know that I work differently. And if it lets me reach different ideas, then it’ll be well worth it.

Taking it Offline

This was a week of online encounters becoming offline ones. I had lunch with Heidi Hansen, a librarian from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was in Toronto for a few days, and Andy Piper suggested that we get together because we’re both interested in social networking. To give you an idea of how small the world is, we had never met our mutual friend face to face. Andy Piper had “met” her randomly through a blog post about Plazes, and I met Andy through IBM. He knew we were both interested in social computing, so he told us about each other. Great call. Over lunch at Green Mango (730 Yonge Street), Heidi and I chatted about wikis, blogs, technology adoption, life, and other wonderful things. I find that people in library and information sciences are just as techie as I am when it comes to social networking and information spaces, even though they’d never admit it. =) I enjoyed our conversation, and I’m thrilled to hear that she and her husband will be moving to Toronto, and that her husband is taking a postdoc at the University of Toronto. (Andy Piper blogged about it too.) I look forward to keeping in touch!

There’s something different about having a conversation with another blogger. Our online lives transform our off-line interactions. I had never met Heidi before, but a quick scan of her blog showed me that I was going to enjoy that conversation with her. And I did. There was no awkwardness, no shyness, not even a twinge of the asymmetry I feel when I talk to people who know a lot more about me than I do about them. In those asymmetric conversations, I feel I need to ask a lot of questions so that I can understand the other person as much as he or she understands me. When I talk to people who have rich online presences, I don’t feel that imbalance. We just slip right into easy conversation.

Another person I’d gotten to know through IBM blogs is Jonathan Feinberg, maker of Dogear (our enterprise social bookmarking system) and other systems that make my day-to-day life so much better. When I heard that he was flying into town for a gig (one night only!), I had to go and see this other side of him. He played drums for the launch of Michael Holt‘s new CD, “Windows,” held at The Music Gallery (197 John St.) Great venue. I knew it was a mistake leaving my camera behind. This mistake was confirmed when he took a break from the drums in order to put on a red clown nose for a hilarious act. Jon in a red clown nose! Worth it. After the show, we chatted about music and finding time to do what you love when you also have other priorities. Something worth thinking about.

Speaking of things to think about, I had brunch with Florina Xhabija at Eggstacy (1255 Bay St). I met Flo at a DemoCamp when she walked up to me and said that she liked my blog. I had a great conversation with her and other U of T students at the DemoCamp afterparty, and we caught up over brunch yesterday. We talked about psychology, gender roles in computer science, life decisions, social networking, and other things. She’s also a big fan of tea, so I might organize a tea party soon. I prefer to spend time at home, and this week’s been an anomaly in terms of going out. Still, that was a fun conversation, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Work is going well. My second client project will be extended, and I’m thrilled to see that the guide I am making for them is starting to take hold. Next week is packed. I have a workshop on Monday and Friday, and a short term engagement during the other days of the week. I’m starting to see how I provide value, and my three upcoming events (two as speaker, one as organizer) will certainly stretch me.

Our plan for our trip to the Philippines is starting to take shape. We’re thinking of spending four days in Bohol, and if I’m really lucky, maybe I can convince my dad to go on a 4- or 5- day trip up to the Mountain Provinces. That should cover most of the sightseeing, and we can always leave things to do for next time.

My goals for next week are:

  • Do well in this hectic week of work.
  • Finish editing the second draft of the chapter on task management.
  • Finish 3/4 of the chapter on taking notes.

Library book reminder script – Perl geeking required

W- and I borrow lots of books from the library. This script helps keep order in the house by reminding us when either of us have books that are due. I’ve removed our information from it and have made no efforts to make it user-friendly. Perl geeking required.


(It’s really a .pl. Can’t be bothered to mess around with forcing content type at 1:10 AM…)

Here’s the one that generates the RSS file that’s pulled into the right sidebar of my blog:



Yak shaving with OpenOffice.org

Fiddly little editing tasks are driving me mad. Formatting all the keyboard shortcuts as EmphasisBold and the command names as Literal… I figured that if I could write a program that got 80% of the cases right, that would not only save me time but also stress. So I spent two hours shaving the yak today, learning just enough OpenOffice.org Basic to put together two procedures that attempt to handle most of the cases. FormatCommands looks for anything within parentheses inside a body paragraph, and FormatKeyboardShortcut looks for things like C-c r t (remember, tasks). I don’t expect this to be usable to anyone, but if it can be a useful jumping-off-point for other people, that would be awesome.

Sub FormatCommands
   oDoc = ThisComponent
   Descriptor = oDoc.createSearchDescriptor()
   Descriptor.SearchRegularExpression = true
   Descriptor.SearchString = "\([^)]+\)"
   Found = oDoc.FindFirst(Descriptor)
   do while not isNull(Found)
       oNew = oDoc.Text.createTextCursorByRange(Found.Start)
       if oNew.CharStyleName = "" and (oNew.ParaStyleName = "Body" or oNew.ParaStyleName = "BodyFirst") then
             oNew.goRight(1, False)
             oNew.goRight(Len(Found.String) - 2, True)
             oNew.CharStyleName = "Literal"
       end if 
     Found = oDoc.findNext(Found.End, Descriptor)
End Sub
Sub FormatKeyboardShortcuts
   oDoc = ThisComponent
   Descriptor = oDoc.createSearchDescriptor()
   Descriptor.SearchRegularExpression = true
   Descriptor.SearchCaseSensitive = true
   Descriptor.SearchString = "([CMS]-)+([a-zA-Z0-9]+)*( [a-zA-Z0-9])* "
   Found = oDoc.FindFirst(Descriptor)
   do while not isNull(Found)
           if Found.CharStyleName = "" and (Found.ParaStyleName = "Body" or Found.ParaStyleName = "BodyFirst") then
                 Found.CharStyleName = "EmphasisBold"
           end if 
     Found = oDoc.findNext(Found.End, Descriptor)
End Sub