Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Tue, 15 Oct 2013

I've finally admitted that most of my non-kid-related posts to this blog are about my struggle to use my time wisely, so I created a "time" category. However, I'm not going to move all my old "time" blog posts into it. I just don't have the time.

However, this post is a pleasant change from my usual moaning about not having enough time. I have actually learned two things about time.

Slack

A few years ago I read a review of Tom DeMarco's Slack. I'm not sure what the book is actually about (and I don't want to look it up right now lest I lose track of my thought) but what I took away from the review is that piling your employees with the absolute maximum amount of work they can handle is not effective. People and systems need enough available slack to deal with crises as they arise. (Also people, especially people doing creative work, do some of their best work when they have a chance to be idle, to chat with coworkers, to just think. I'm pretty sure that I learned that since, though.)

At the time I thought the slack theory sounded very credible, mostly because it validated my own work-related misery and exhaustion at the time. (In retrospect that's laughable; I hadn't had kids yet and had no idea what being too busy meant; I was miserable and exhausted at work for other reasons.) But it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that it occurred to me that the principal of incorporating slack applies to individuals as much as it does to companies. When your everyday life is crammed to the brim, you have no recourse when a family member gets sick, a neighbour adopts a baby or a friend loses a parent; you have to either abandon something important or let someone down.

At the moment my schedule is crammed full; between household maintenance and childcare and child management and choir and school choir and friends and working out and, of course, work, I have no slack. And there's nothing I want to give up.

However, I'm trying to let things fall away and not replace them. I have stuck to my resolution to not take up the eco-committee chair position at school; I have stubbornly refused to take on any other major school volunteer jobs; I have even declined to arrange social events.

My plan, and I think it's rather clever, is to fill my slack time with a space-holder hobby: something worth doing but which I don't mind setting aside if I'm needed for something more important. I have a needlework project which my father started as he was beginning to sink into dementia; he abandoned it when he was moved into the nursing home, and I brought it home with this summer. I want to finish it but I don't mind how long it takes. That will be my time-space-holder. Just as soon as I find some time to hold.


Time Panic

In the October 5 issue of New Scientist Debora MacKenzie reviews three books about pursuing happiness. Part of her review is about how scarcity inspires obsession:

...the brain focuses ferociously on what it feels is lacking. This reflex evolved to help us find what we need. The team's real insight is that it applies to all scarcities, not just of money, but of time and even social contact. We "tunnel" in on the scarcity and ignore anything outside.

All that scarcity messes with how we manage the resource in question.

The future looks less menacing than the scarcity we face now. So we borrow money, then borrow more, disregarding future costs as interest mounts, until we are deeply in debt.

This is exactly what I do when I feel overwhelmed with things to do. Instead of taking the time to figure out how to best spend my time, I panic and either avoid everything or just do the first thing I put my hands on, which is sometimes helpful, and often not. At the end of the day I'm exhausted, anxious, and no further ahead.

Uuh, I'm not sure what the takeaway is from this particular clue, apart from that I need to notice when I'm flailing and take a deep breath. It might seem like I don't have time to take a deep breath, but really I don't have time not to.

[Posted at 22:47 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 12 Oct 2013

I’ve recently been playing a lot of Fez, a 2-D (kinda) platforming/puzzle video game. Many of the puzzles use a series of symbols in squares as a code language. I really liked the way the language looked, and so I decided to write a small single page app in Angular to transliterate English into the Fezish alphabet. The first implementation was written as a filter, and it seemed to work okay, but emitting a bunch of HTML and then forcing the user of the filter to use a sanitizer to get it to render as HTML was kinda strange. That very same day, in an odd twist of fate, I got some email from Packt Publishing asking if I would be interested in featuring their new Angular JS book on my blog. Long story short, I agreed to post a review of it here in exchange for a free copy of the eBook. So on to the review…

The first thing that struck me about Angular JS Directives was the writing. I’ve read a lot of extremely dry technical books which were hard to get through, and I’m happy to say that this is not one of them. I found the writing both engaging and amusing. There are a few times where the author even pokes fun at himself for repeating the same points, which was wonderful to see. The examples were clear to read, and ably demonstrated the points that the accompanying text was making. The overall flow of the book mostly made sense, with simpler concepts leading to more complicated concepts. My only suggestion is that the chapter on Testing could have been introduced sooner, and then used in the rest of the examples to prove things were working the way that the author claimed.

I don’t like to only say positive things about something I’m reviewing, both because I believe that there’s always something that could be done better, and because I don’t want to look like a corporate shill. At least not for $17. ;) So, on to the bad things I’ve run into. It took me a lot longer to read than I would have hoped. This was partially because of a bunch of work stuff taking up all my spare time, but also because after every few pages I wanted to go back and re-write large parts of the projects I’ve done. :) My other concern is that $17 for 87 pages of content might not not be worth it to you. I found the content very useful, and I’ve certainly gotten $17 worth of knowledge out of it, but at my previous job, where I didn’t use any JavaScript much less Angular, it wouldn’t have been money well spent.

Having said all that, after the fourth chapter, I re-wrote the Fezish Filter as a Directive, and the code became far cleaner. And now that I’m done reading the ninth chapter, I think I might spend the rest of this weekend adding some unit and end-to-end tests. So in the end, would I recommend this book? Yes. Yes I would.

(Monday October 14th edit: I’ve also just been informed that Packt is running a Columbus Day sale, and if you use the discount code "COL50" in the next four days, you’ll get 50% off this, and any other eBook or video, so if you’re thinking of buying it, today would be a great day to do so!)

[Posted at 17:07 by Blake Winton] link
Sat, 05 Oct 2013
Eight is Great

Today was Cordelia's eight birthday party. Blake's away and Tanya, who usually backs me up at birthday parties, was busy with many things, so I was faced with managing by myself. It didn't take much thought to realize that that wasn't going to go well, so I threw up the bat signal to our babysitter from last year, Emma. Against all odds she was available, so I had a helper.

The party was loosely candy themed (because who doesn't like candy?) so we started by making candy sushi. I wasn't sure how it would go, with the stickiness and general potential for chaos, but everyone managed fine and made pretty credible rolls. And didn't even get incredibly sticky.

Next on the agenda was Pin the Cherry on the Ice Cream. It soon became apparent why no-one plays this game any more, because everyone just used their hands to figure out where the cherry went and it wasn't much of a contest. We made a rule that you could only use one hand, but it still wasn't that challenging. The most fun player was the youngest, who got all silly and giggly and fell over a lot, so Emma and I decide that maybe the peak age for "Pin the X on the Y" is a little younger than eight.

Next up was Pass the Parcel. We added a rule that if you already have a prize and the music stops when you have the parcel, you can decide whether to keep what you have, or pass it on to the next person who doesn't have a prize and open the next layer of the parcel. It was a pretty good solution to the problem of matching n prizes to n kids, but of course some of the prizes became inexplicably more valued than others, and there was fighting and unsuccessful attempts at trading. It was quite acrimonious and also rather annoying.

The last planned activity was Cordelia's idea: a few rousing rounds of Murder Handshake. It was okay, but the littlest kids didn't really manage the part where you have to shake two more people's hands; they would just collapse straight away. And when Otis was murderer he shook hands with such vigor that it was pretty clear what he was up to. So it seems the best age for Murder Handshake is a little older than eight.

Lunch was KFC (which seems like an obvious choice for party food but which I've never seen at another kid party) and then we finished with cake and more candy.

It was a pretty good party, but I really hope I'm done with kid parties. I like throwing the kind of parties where I actually get to have fun, not just co-ordinate other people's fun and listen to them whine. But next year Cordelia is nine, and surely that's too old for a games-and-cake party. Maybe we'll go to the Science Center or something. That would be nice.


Cordelia is Eight

So Cordelia is eight. She's not too excited about growing up; in fact she's downright against it. But it's happening anyway. She says she doesn't like school, but she seems to have fun when she's there. She loves ballet and jazz dance and Brownies. She has a couple of good friends and gets along well with most of the kids in her class. And she can manage the rest of them.

The other day we were chatting about her friends and relationships, and she said "I don't tell grown-ups about problems because they don't really help. They say they're going to help but they don't do anything." Last year she had some trouble with a girl who was her best friend a couple of years ago, and who got caught up with a third girl and started excluding her. She didn't come to me for help, and this year (so far) they are all three getting along together. She's also done well managing a couple of difficult boys in her class.

Grown-ups love Cordelia — at least, grown-ups who love kids love Cordelia. Grown-ups who don't love kids love Delphine because she's like a grown-up, but Cordelia's such a kid. She's enthusiastic and noisy and uninhibited. She loves talking to grown-ups and she still has that habit of telling long, involved stories without giving enough context, which is fascinating and occasionally surreal.

She's kind of getting too old for me to blog about her. When the kids were younger I treated them like extensions of myself, and of course it was okay to blog about them. But there's a lot of talk about Internet privacy lately, and what you're entitled to post about other people with or without their consent, and I'm starting to realize (a little belatedly) that even if I don't mind my whole life being online, that's not a decision I should make for the girls. But I guess that's another blog post...

[Posted at 23:46 by Amy Brown] link