What I’m learning from Borderlands 2

W- and I have been playing Borderlands 2 on our PS3. It’s the first time I’ve seriously played a first-person shooter. I’m more used to turn-based games where you have a little time to think, and I’m not at all used to aiming at moving targets. Borderlands has been surprisingly enjoyable and easy to pick up, though, especially with its focus on cooperative play.

W- plays a Gunzerker, although he rarely uses the action skill to dual-wield guns. I play a Commando, and my action skill involves deploying a turret. The turret is awesome. I like how it can deal with lots of enemies by itself, especially the ones I haven’t even seen. It’s almost like having a third player – one who can aim better than I can. I use the turret a lot.

When W- and I play together, it’s a lot of fun coordinating our attacks, reviving each other as needed, then looting the area and pointing out good stuff or trading what the other person might find useful. The game’s dialogue gives us more fodder for jokes and references. Once in a while, we catch a glimpse of the developers’ thoughtfulness, such as when the characters say something clever when you spend too long looking at your inventory. It’s nice to be able to share those moments.

Sometimes I play on my own to build up more experience and get used to this style of game. Even with the turret as backup, I catch myself tensing. I notice my heartrate increasing a bit and my breath slowing down. It’s a good opportunity for me to direct my attention, breathe better, and then go ahead with the game.

I recently read The Well-played Game: A Player’s Philosophy (De Koven, 2013), an impulse-read from the stacks at the Toronto Reference Library. In one of the chapters, the author made a point about the value of practising quitting. That way, quitting loses its stigma and its emotional charge. Losing is similar, I think. In Borderlands, I catch myself thinking: “Oh no! I’m about to die!” And then I remember that death in the game is momentary and can even be handy. I respawn with whatever ammo I came in with, and the automatic save-points are never too far away. It’s useful to learn the difference between things that are scary and things that only look scary, especially when my brain is getting fooled by external cues.

It’s good to practise quitting, too. I think I’m past the initial intense sprint of new interests. Even if I haven’t finished a mission (and there’s always another mission!), I can move on to other things, like writing or reading.

I’m learning more about my play style, too. In the game, I tend to favour elemental weapons, with a sub-machine gun as my primary weapon. That said, picking enemies off with a sniper rifle makes me feel a little more accomplished. I can aim! When I’m not panicking, that is. I don’t do melee unless I have to, since it’s a little more nervewracking and I sometimes find it difficult to make sure my character is facing the right direction when attackers are moving.

I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this eventually! =)

Weekly review: Week ending July 17, 2015

Wow, I played a lot of Borderlands 2 this week. I tend to pick up new interests in sprints, I guess. =)

Also hosted an Emacs Hangout and developed an interesting prototype at work, yay!

2015-07-19a Week ending 2015-07-17 -- index card #journal #weekly output

Blog posts


Link round-up

Neat Emacs-related things:

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (16.4h – 9%)
    • Earn (13.0h – 79% of Business)
    • Build (3.4h – 20% of Business)
      • Drawing (3.4h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (4.9h – 2%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (4.3h – 2%)
    • Emacs (2.6h – 1% of all)
      • Announce Emacs Hangout 2015-07-15
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (39.6h – 23%)
  • Personal routines (32.7h – 19%)
  • Unpaid work (4.8h – 2%)
  • Sleep (65.3h – 38% – average of 9.3 per day)

July 2015 Emacs Hangout

We talked about Python, Org Mode, system administration, keybindings, Hydra, and other neat things. =)

I’ll probably set up another hangout mid-August, or we’ll just do the one on the 29th. We’ll see! You can follow the Emacs Conferences and Hangouts page for more information, or sign up to get e-mails for upcoming hangouts. Past Emacs Hangouts

Text chat (links edited to avoid weird wrapping things):

me 9:18 PM literate devops link
Daniel Gopar 9:34 PM config link
me 9:37 PM jwiegley/dot-emacs jwiegley – haskell
Howard Melman 9:48 PM cocoa-text-system
Mr Swathepocalypse 9:55 PM I have to go attend to some work stuff, I look forward to watching the rest of the hangout later on.
me 9:55 PM Orgstruct
Mr Swathepocalypse 9:55 PM Thanks guys!
me 9:55 PM Bye Dylan! my config erc erc-pass
Howard Abrams 9:59 PM Did I mention how I’ve been using emacs mail to mime encode an org-mode buffer into HTML for the most awesome mail messages.
Daniel Gopar 10:05 PM Have you guys used “helm-M-x”? It’s part of the helm package I believe
Kaushal Modi 10:07 PM ready to share which-key package
Daniel Gopar 10:10 PM Got to go. Nice talking to everyone.
Kaushal Modi 10:14 PM config link
Kaushal Modi 10:37 PM (setq debug-on-message “Making tags”)
me 10:39 PM org-map-entries
Correl Roush 10:47 PM git graphs
me 10:54 PM imagex-global-sticky-mode imagex-auto-adjust-mode
Kaushal Modi 10:54 PM Emacs-imagex config link example of setting ditaa and plantuml
Correl Roush 10:58 PM writing specs link that has some setup steps listed out as well

Weekly review: Week ending July 10, 2015

I thought I slept a lot more last week, but that’s just the recency bias talking – I guess the hackathon balanced it out! Our team won third place, which was a nice bonus for our Evil Plans. =) Aside from that, I’ve been taking it pretty easy.

2015-07-15b Week ending 2015-07-10 -- index card #journal #weekly output

Blog posts


Focus areas and time review

  • Business (35.8h – 21%)
    • Earn (26.9h – 75% of Business)
      • Participate in hackathon
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (6.0h – 16% of Business)
      • Drawing (5.7h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (2.9h – 8% of Business)
  • Relationships (1.4h – 0%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (9.6h – 5%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Announce Emacs Hangout 2015-07-15
    • Scatter-plot grocery data
    • Investigate semi-canned demo options
    • Writing (0.2h)
  • Discretionary – Play (30.3h – 18%)
  • Personal routines (22.1h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (7.7h – 4%)
  • Sleep (61.2h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Gradually evolving my data entry interfaces

I’m interested in Quantified Self as a way to make better decisions through data. When I come up with a question I want to explore, I usually start off tracking things on paper or in a spreadsheet. This means I can get started quickly, and I can check whether the question is useful enough to invest in further.


I track my clothes to make it easier to simplify my wardrobe, and to guide my purchases.

I started by writing down dates and clothing combinations on an index card in the morning. Since my index card was unlined and my brain is pretty fuzzy early in the day, I occasionally had problems with incorrect dates or items not matching up. Eventually, I built a small Rails application (Quantified Awesome) to keep track of the clothes for me. Adding pictures made it easier to select the right item. Over time, I added little conveniences like the ability to display or sort by the last time I wore something.

I often find myself backdating entries, so maybe tracking my clothes isn’t as easy or as fun as it could be. I wonder if making it more prescriptive (“Pick one of these three outfits, or select what you’re going to wear”) would help, or maybe integrating it more into my morning routine.


I track my time to guide my activity decisions and remind me of how I used the time.

I used apps on my phone to track time for a few months. I started with Time Recording and a few categories, adding more as I went along. When the number of categories got to be a bit unwieldy, I moved on to Tap Log so that I could organize the buttons into a menu. Since it didn’t have the built-in time analysis I liked about Time Recording, I added time analysis tools to Quantified Awesome. After I added other features to Quantified Awesome, I shifted to using it as my time tracking and analysis tool.

For a while, I tracked time by bringing up the Quantified Awesome web interface on my phone and typing in a substring of a category name. Then I decided to look into building Emacs integration so that I could automatically clock in from my to-do list. To speed up time tracking on my phone, I used Tasker to create a menu of my most common time categories. Since fiddling with Tasker on my phone was time-consuming and a little annoying, I eventually shifted to using Tasker and Javascript. That way, I could edit my HTML file in Emacs, copy it onto my phone through Dropbox, and get my handy menu of buttons. Using Tasker also allowed me to code extra behaviour such as turning off WiFi when I go for a walk.

My next step is probably to build more time visualizations so I can see the shifts from day to day, week to week.


I track groceries so that I can make better decisions at the supermarket and so that I can get a sense of the balance and patterns of our consumption.

I started by typing in my receipts manually, but it was a little boring. I paid a virtual assistant to enter the data from my scanned receipts. This worked out to be better than the receipt scanning companies that were out there, since I could get line-item detail in a spreadsheet shared in Dropbox. I periodically reviewed the data, fixing errors and analyzing totals.

After some time doing this and quite a few errors in the data, I decided to build my own interface for entering data more reliably. Now that I’ve built my neat interactive interface, I find it faster (and more fun!) to enter the data in myself than to scan it and send it over. I’ve been digging into visualizing the data with D3 too.

Here’s a quick demo:

My next step is probably to build a grocery list interface for it. We’re currently using OurGroceries because it syncs well between my husband’s phone and mine, but I should be able to use either straight AJAX or WebSockets to get the synchronization part working.

So those are a few examples of how I slowly improve my tracking systems, rounding off rough edges and making things a little bit simpler for myself. Web programming is super helpful for me. Backend tools like Ruby on Rails allow me to build my own tracking tools and front-end tools like Javascript allow me to create personalized interfaces and visualizations.

I tend to code the next step of improvements only when something annoys me enough for me to do something about it or when a question makes me curious enough to want to investigate it. I’ve been deliberately working on my personal projects more often, though, and that might lead to more of these little improvements. We’ll see!

Monthly review: June 2015

Lots of sleep and fuzzy-brain this month, which was a good excuse to learn more about both. I still got a decent amount of coding done, focusing on Angular and D3 for personal projects, and digging deeper into SQL and Bluemix for consulting. I also built a small Tasker + Javascript interface for my tracking things. It’s pretty convenient, although not totally reliable (Tasker weirds out sometimes).

June was heavy on the academics for J-. We helped her with her blackjack game programming project, physics review, English presentation, and university planning. It got me thinking about my processes for solving problems and revising presentations. Anyway, she made it through to summer, and is now working at her first job.

Also, lots of video gaming this month – W-‘s influence on me, plus a resolution to take things super-easy and go into hermit mode. I completed the main storylines for Ni no Kuni, LEGO Hobbit, and LEGO Jurassic Park. Now W- and I are working our (separate) ways through Persona 1. I could probably redirect some of the time I spend gaming to, say, reading or coding, but my reading and coding time seem pretty all right too. Time is not the limiting factor here. Although maybe I can allocate some more time to drawing, and then sit with the vagueness of thought a little longer…

Summer fruits, yum!

July will still be mostly hermit mode, I think. Anyway, I’ll just keep plugging along…

2015-07-06e June 2015 -- index card #monthly #review output

2015-07-06c Plans for July -- index card #plans

Blog posts



Category Last month (%) This month (%) Avg h per week Delta (h/wk)
Sleep 35.1 39.7 67 7.7
Discretionary – Play 10.8 13.7 23 4.9
Discretionary – Family 3.0 4.5 8 2.5
Business – Earn 3.9 4.6 8 1.2
Personal 16.1 15.9 27 -0.3
Discretionary – Social 1.6 0.9 2 -1.2
Business – Connect 1.3 0.6 1 -1.2
Unpaid work 9.2 7.5 13 -2.9
Business – Build 10.5 7.8 13 -4.5
Discretionary – Productive 8.4 4.9 8 -5.9

Oookay. Lots more sleep this month, and lots more gaming. Still, lots of coding despite the drop in Discretionary – Productive…