Category Archives: life

How do I want consulting to fit into my life?

I do a tiny bit of consulting to help a long-standing client with prototyping and data analysis. It lets them take advantage of the experience I’d built up with their tools and platform, and I get to keep my technical skills and professional network going.

Before we went on our trip, I was averaging about two hours a week, after A-‘s in bed. A- tends to nurse frequently at night, probably to make up for distractions during the day, and we’re okay with this. Sometimes I might be able to do an hour or two of uninterrupted work, and sometimes I clock in and out as I get interrupted by nursing. Fortunately, I built a pretty handy time tracking interface, so it takes only a few taps on my phone.

Because of my limited availability, I try to pick tasks that don’t require a lot of coordination with other people, that can bear with interruptions, and that aren’t risky when done with a fuzzy brain. So, no meetings, no big chunks of new things to learn, and no messing with write access to production data if I can help it. Despite this limited availability, I was able to prototype a few add-ons they wanted, yay!

IA- has been a bit more clingy lately (might be because of teething) so I’m not sure how much time I’ll have in the next little while. I’d like to have the brainspace to learn and build new things so that I can help out my main client, since he has moved up in terms of his role, but that can probably wait. In the meantime, we get decent ROI if I focus on quick answers and prototypes.

t’s important to me to manage expectations well and to turn over as much as I can. This means not committing to more than I can work on, and keeping people up to date on timelines and risks; making sure the team has access to my code and can take things over if they need to; and building in small steps so that I can deliver something of value as soon as possible. It’s fun to break an idea down into the minimum viable product, the intermediate steps to get there, and the incremental enhancements that would make it even better.

I’ve thought about expanding my available work time, but I chose not to. This is the last month and a half of W-‘s parental leave, but I’d rather spend the time enjoying parenting A- with him than squeezing in more computer things. He’s awesome with A- – better than I am. I’ve sometimes asked him to take care of her while I handled high-priority things that needed focused time (such as doing my business tax paperwork!), but I don’t want to commit more of that time than I need to.

At the moment, I’m not particularly keen on getting a babysitter after W- returns to work. I know the math could work out and that the socialization might even be an awesome thing for A-, but I’m curious about the things I might learn from going through this experience myself. I like the fun of problem-solving and the validation of helping a great team, but I can get that later, too. I also don’t quite trust my ability to pick a good person and build the kind of long-term relationship that would be good for A-, so there’s that too. In the meantime, I can learn from A- as she learns, and I can try to shape her world. We’ve got a rare opportunity to do this in a flexible way, and I want to take advantage of that.

So, how do I want consulting to fit into my life? I think the current arrangement is pretty good. I prioritize my self-care, A-, W-, and the general upkeep of the household; then my journal and Emacs News, since both are time-based; then more discretionary things, like consulting or personal coding. The clients seem happy. They’re not slowed down by me or kept hanging, and they get good value considering the time and money involved. I might be able to do more work if A-‘s sleep solidifies, but I’m in no rush. It might be that I’ll have limited work availability until she’s old enough for playdates or school, and that’s fine too.

I’ll think about this again after we settle into new routines, when W-‘s back at work. It’ll be interesting to see how things change.

Trip notes

We’re still jet-lagged from our trip to the Philippines to visit family and friends. Winter’s short, cold days have been making it difficult to use sunshine to help reset A-‘s circadian rhythm. Ah well! She’ll adapt eventually. We managed to get through a few daytime appointments that we had already scheduled, and now we have a more flexible schedule.

It was an excellent trip, easily my favourite of all our trips back. We stayed at Kathy’s house, acquainted ourselves with the local supermarkets, and took over her kitchen. W- discovered a nice pork bun recipe. I even managed to make a couple of lasagnas – my first time to make bechamel sauce. It was such a treat: plenty of people to eat experimental food, and other people doing all the cleanup. Also: no road trips, plenty of time to relax and take care of A-… We got to be homebodies while spending time with family. Whee! My kind of thing.

All of us were there, as my eldest sister Ching and her husband John also flew in from the US for a week. We got the requisite family photos done, of course. It was great seeing John and Kathy raise their family, and seeing my parents in their roles as grandparents, too. We got a sense of family life over there. Good stuff! A- got pretty comfortable with my parents and with John and Kathy, which was awesome. Yay!

I enjoyed playing with G* and A*, who were so excited about meeting their cousin A-. It was like a preview of life with toddlers and preschoolers. Lots of good practice in redirection, guidance, running commentaries, dispute resolution, word definition, explanation, and safety and sanity preservation. I think we’ll be okay.

The rhythm of the day worked out nicely. We were up at 7 or so because of jet lag. I had a relaxed breakfast, planned cooking, picked up groceries, had lunch, hung out with people / did paperwork, took care of A-, cooked dinner, and then retired back to our room for the evening routine.

I took care of some paperwork while I was there, and we exchanged our demonetized bills before the deadline. I also helped my parents with their Canada visa application. I learned a bit more about estate planning, too. There’s more to do, of course.

I caught up with my barkada, and it was good to get a sense of where they are today. It’s interesting to notice the aspects that have stayed the same and the aspects that have changed a lot.

Speaking of change, A- learned a lot. She’s now quite good at creeping around on her hands and knees, and has also been pulling herself up to stand with support. She likes walking when we’re holding her, too. She tried lots of food while we were in the Philippines, and she turned out to like green mangoes. As I mentioned, she’s gotten more comfortable with other people, although she still often wants me or W- in particular. She seems a lot chattier now, babbling and waving her arms excitedly. She also seems more flexible in terms of sleep. She’s slept in a small airplane bassinet and on recliners, although she usually still needs to nurse before she’s ready to drop off.

Time is double-edged, and my parents are both dealing with health issues. Still, I feel less anxious about my parents now. They have pretty good plans and coping mechanisms, and it’s all part of life. My sister is also dealing with her own challenges. We’re happy to help out however we can.

We picked Korean Air because of its reputation for baby-friendliness, and we were satisfied with the experience. The bassinet was roomy enough for A- to hang out in, and she even napped in it a few times. She wasn’t a fan of the baby meals, but then she’s not into commercial baby purees in general anyway. The child meal worked out well, though, since she could eat some of it and I didn’t mind eating the rest. The play areas and rest areas in Incheon were a pleasant places to spend a few hours waiting for connecting flights.

The only wrinkle was that we lost A-‘s ocular prosthesis during an otherwise awesome trip to Manila Ocean Park. No worries, that’s why we have an oops fund. We’ll try out the less expensive clear conformer first before considering replacing the painted shell, as she won’t be eligible for funding a replacement painted shell for another 1.5 years or so. If the clear conformer works out, it’ll be easier to let her go play and do stuff, since the impact of losing it will be smaller.

Other little notes:

  • Didn’t use my dress shoes or socks. I can leave them behind next time.
  • Should probably copy photos from people’s phones/cameras a day or two before leaving.
  • I wonder how Tim Ho Wan makes those buns…
  • W- is super awesome! The trip would have been very different without him.
  • It was nice to spend time with everyone.

Good trip, and good to be back.

On scattered moments and video games

In anticipation of more fuzzy-brain time-confetti, I’ve been thinking about what I can do with short, scattered moments. The considerations are:

  • They should be activities that I can pick up and put down at a moment’s notice: minimal switching costs and easy availability
  • They should be useful or enjoyable, and ideally both
  • Ideally, they should build up over time

Here’s a list of things I often find myself doing:

  • Reading: nonfiction, fiction, random Internet browsing. Dusted off my Kindle and loaded it up with a few tech manuals and some fanfiction. Great for walking around, since I can use the page buttons even with gloves on.
  • Tidying up or preparing: there’s always something that needs to be done
  • Checking out the Emacs community to see if I can answer a quick question or learn from other people’s conversations
  • Drawing an index card or two
  • Playing casual games

I think games are worth thinking about a little more, even though I’m tempted to focus on the more useful activities. There are a lot of people who spend a lot of time thinking about how to make gaming more engaging. It’s a big industry. I wonder if I can turn it to my own purposes.

2016-02-01c Game endings -- index card #gaming

2016-02-01c Game endings – index card #gaming.png

I tend to like games with stories that have funny moments, like RPGs or LEGO games. Since games like that tend to require space and development effort, I play them on the PSP or the PS3. I’ve learned I’m not a completionist when it comes to achievements or levels – I like passing a level, but I’m not driven to reach three out of three stars. I can enjoy open-ended sandbox simulations. Games that go until failure tend to be a little depressing after a while – the abstract achievement of lasting a certain time or reaching a certain level doesn’t tickle my brain the same way other things do.

2016-01-14d Thinking about games I liked -- index card #play #gaming #leisure

2016-01-14d Thinking about games I liked – index card #play #gaming #leisure.png

Reflecting on the specific games I’ve liked, I notice that I usually explore games that W-‘s also playing as a way of spending time together or sharing experiences. This is how I ended up getting into Borderlands 2 and Persona 4 Golden, and why I’m playing Final Fantasy IX now. On my own, I find that I’m a little partial to time- and resource-management games. I figure that among the popular games of those genres, a game is probably as good as any other. So I’m playing through Rising Star Chef on the tablet, and just for kicks (and Takei’s narration, although there’s far too little of that), Star Trek: Trexels on my phone.

It seems like most of the popular games have switched to a freemium model, with in-app purchases for the impatient. I find myself liking the built-in timers and rate limits, actually. They’re good for reminding me to surface from the game and look around. There’s a little bit of pride, too, in the thought: “Aha, I resist your feeble attempts to convince me to spend money.” But that’s only part of the picture, of course. I pay in time and attention, and often in exposure to advertisements. So if I’m going to do this, I want to make sure that I get what I want out of it.

Here are the pay-offs I think I’m getting from these games, and some alternatives if I want to play with those pay-offs.

2016-01-28c Playing with games -- index card #games

2016-01-28c Playing with games – index card #games.png

Games give me a sense of learning and a sense of progress, although they’re of arbitrary things. Games also deliberately build on the rush of intermittent rewards.

2016-02-01b Playing with my brain's failure modes -- index card #gaming

2016-02-01b Playing with my brain’s failure modes – index card #gaming.png

The most interesting benefit for me, though, is developing an awareness of how I think in different situations, while keeping things low-risk. Sometimes I catch myself getting flustered and messing up orders in the cooking game, or letting a party member get knocked out in FF9 because I was too distracted to pay attention to the health stats. (Trexels seems more like a virtual pet than anything else; it feels like it’s just a matter of time.) I like the way games make me think a few steps ahead, take risks, recover from mistakes, and deal with (or even celebrate) the inevitable failures.

So maybe a little more gaming, with built-in limits thanks to freemium timers and the pull of other things, mixed in with all these other ways to use scattered moments. Hmm…

Eating more vegetables

It looks like all I really needed in order to nudge myself to eat more vegetables was to keep a large variety of salad-able vegetables in the fridge. It’s still pretty cold out, so I prefer to eat warm foods. Roast vegetables, then.

2016-02-07c Eating more vegetables -- index card #cooking #vegetables

2016-02-07c Eating more vegetables – index card #cooking #vegetables

I spent part of my afternoon processing a stream of various vegetables cut into half-inch-ish dice, tossed in olive oil, and roasted at 400’F for however long it took to make them tender, generally shaking them and checking them every ten minutes or so. It’s a good pipeline: one bowl for scraps, one bowl for tossing in olive oil, one large chopping board and a chef’s knife, a roasting pan lined with foil, and each batch of vegetables is generally chopped up by the time the previous batch is done roasting, with liberal breaks for hanging out in #emacs, browsing the Web, or playing games.

Today’s haul: parsnips, carrots, fennel, broccoli, and beets, joining the sweet potatoes and butternut squash in the fridge. I also have chickpeas (both boiled and roasted) and couscous. Mwahaha. My very own salad bar. Meals feel like more of an indulgent production when I haul out almost a dozen containers so that I can take a couple of spoons from each. It’s like when I spend a weekend making a banchan extravaganza, lining up a slew of Korean side dishes, but with less work since the vegetables pretty much use the same cooking methods and I don’t have to juggle different pans, oils, and spices.

Might be a good opportunity to revisit this sketch from last year:

2015-01-28 Winter vegetables to explore -- index card #cooking

2015-01-28 Winter vegetables to explore – index card #cooking

Still haven’t played around with endives, kohlrabi, broccoli raabe, chicory, escarole, rutabagas, or turnips. There’s still time, though!

I imagine that stocking this kind of salad bar would be much the same in warmer weather, except maybe with less cooking and more greens/fruits. Should be fun.

Level up: figured out how to add a zipper pull on continuous zipper tape

The fabric warehouse near our house has an assortment of zippers, but it can be tricky digging through the bins to find a zipper of the appropriate type, length, and colour. They also sell zippers by the yard, and will thread on as many pulls as you ask for.

I picked up a few yards of zipper tape months ago as an experiment. I’ve used the zippers on a number of small pouches already. It’s so convenient being able to just cut the length of the zipper I need instead of sifting through a stash of pre-cut zippers.

Today I was sewing a large pouch that needed a 21″ zipper along one end. One side of the zipper had escaped the zipper pull on the segment I was working with, so I opened the zipper and removed the last two zipper pulls that were on it. Then I realized I had no idea how to get the zipper pulls back on.

Youtube to the rescue! I followed this tutorial:

After a little bit of wiggling, I got the zipper pull onto the coils. The new zipper pull zipped the zipper closed behind it. Hooray!

Bonus: Because I had left the bottom part of the zipper closed, by the time I had moved the zipper pull to the middle of the segment I had stitched into the pouch, the zipper pull was basically in between two closed parts of the zipper. This made stitching over both sides of the zipper much neater than it would have been if one of the sides were open, like the way pre-cut zippers are.

2016-02-05a Zipper pulls and zipper tape -- index card #sewing

2016-02-05a Zipper pulls and zipper tape — index card #sewing

I love how easy it is to find all sorts of practical tutorials on the Internet. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice to know that I can deal with zipper pulls and zipper tape. It means that I can buy zipper tape by the yard and never have to worry about having the wrong length, and that I can make large containers without being constrained by the pre-cut lengths available in the fabric stores. Yay making things!

On routines and depth

A few threads of thought coming together:

  • coming across the Atlantic article Why I Am Not a Maker again, and reflecting on the differences between creating a product and providing a service (particularly a service with results that are hard to measure, or that are repeated)
  • noticing the gradual shift in my 5-year experiment towards becoming more comfortable with routines and not just getting tangible stuff done
  • preparing my mindset for the next phase of the experiment

2016-01-27b Products, services, and routines -- index card #making #services #products

2016-01-27b Products, services, and routines – index card #making #services #products.png

2016-01-25f Do I devalue the other things I'm learning about -- index card #life #learning

2016-01-25f Do I devalue the other things I’m learning about – index card #life #learning.png

I wonder: do I unfairly devalue the other things I do, the other opportunities I learn, because they don’t resemble the things that I’m used to thinking of as opportunities for growth and learning?

2016-01-29b Routines and depth -- index card #learning #perspective #routines

2016-01-29b Routines and depth – index card #learning #perspective #routines

Routines such as vacuuming the house or cleaning the kitchen don’t yet tickle my brain the way coding or sewing do. There’s a sense of satisfaction in clearing the sink, sure, but it’s not something that feels like progress during my weekly reviews, and it doesn’t feel like growth in terms of capabilities.

But maybe that’s a perspective thing, and perspectives can be tweaked.

For example, let’s take vacuuming. It takes me about 30-40 minutes to do a quick vacuum of the house. It doesn’t seem like there’s much more to it. You don’t really have 10x vacuuming the way people talk about 10x programming. On the other hand, vacuuming can be an opportunity to practise concentrating on thoughts and questions despite background noise. It could also be an opportunity to look closely at my surroundings and come up with ideas for decluttering stuff or streamlining routines. I could generate questions for further research. If I do a bit of reading before hand, I could mull over those thoughts while vacuuming.

What about cleaning the kitchen? That’s fairly static. I do it in one place, instead of going through the rest of the house. Most items can go into the dishwasher, but there are a number of things that need to be washed by hand. I could use that time to pay close attention to sensation and anatomy, learning more about the muscles and bones in my hands. I can also learn more about and reflect on the manufacturing technologies and supply chains that made this kitchen possible. Then there’s thinking about the meal we’ve just enjoyed, practising the sense-memory of the tastes and thinking about what to tweak next.

I wonder what else I can do to stack the deck so that these maintenance tasks feel as valuable to me as my more discretionary tasks. I think there might be surprising depth in these activities, like the way monks turn sweeping or walking into moving meditations. It’ll get even awesomer as I get better at seeing the possibilities.

(In case you’re wondering, W- does household chores too. He often brings home groceries, cooks, cleans the kitchen, folds laundry, and works on projects. He handles all the heavy stuff, too. I feel good about our current household workload. Besides, chores took up less than 8% of my total time over the past year, anyway – less than two hours a day, compared to >= 23% discretionary time. =) Plenty of time for other things!)