Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Christmas

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #7; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

This was Christmas week, which is our year-end holiday of choice, so most of our week was focussed on that.  Christmas Eve is our big dinner night, and we had planned to visit our Sister Family on Christmas afternoon, but various and sundry children with various and sundry germs put the kibosh on that plan.  Still, Christmas was very lovely, even with the tiny amount of sleep I got the night before, and now our house is trashed, so it must have been successful.

On to my sabbatical goals (which are described in Sabbatical Report 3).  As they say on Marketplace, first let’s do the numbers.  So far, I’ve expunged 453 emails out of 500, I’ve expunged 15 todo tasks out of 25, and I’ve completed 69 project hours out of 75.  Now, this is the last full week of my sabbatical, so it may seem that I’ve failed, but let’s not forget that I don’t actually go back to work unitl Wednesday, so there’s some time yet.  Let’s look at the individual goals.

Currently I have 47 emails in my inbox, which fits on a single screen without having to page.  That’s pretty impressive, and, while I will probably try to whittle it down even further, I’m happy enough to declare that one a success even as is.

In terms of the todo tasks, I will probably knock a couple of others off before sabbatical is fully over, but it’s true that I have little hope of doing 10 more.  So I have to declare that one a bust.

Of course, the project hours is really the big one, and there’s only 6 more to go to reach my (adjusted) goal.  I’m feeling pretty confident about hitting that one, actually.  Even though there’s still a few projects that I never even got to start.

New projects I worked on were polishing up my Debuggit module (one new release done, one to go), finally finally getting around to using Dist::Zilla by creating my own plugin bundle (first, very primitive release done, several to go), and starting my super-long-term project, which I won’t reveal just yet, as it’s still very early days on that one.

So all is not lost ... no, all is not lost ... not yet.  Next week, me and my precognitive dissonance will visit: New Year’s Day.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Catching Up

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #6; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

Family stuff has been fairly light this week.  We put up our Christmas tree, went out to eat at Souplantation, and went to see a movie.  We were going to do more stuff, but it was cold and rainy all week, and we just wanted to chill out at home.

Which gave me time to catch up on my other goals (my sabbatical goals are described in Sabbatical Report 3).  In terms of raw numbers, I’ve expunged 352 emails (instead of 400; a very slight drop from last week), I’ve expunged 12 todo tasks (instead of 20; a major improvment over last week), and I’ve completed 52 project hours (instead of 60), which is very good progress.  I actually completely finished 3 entire projects, which is the first I’ve been able to knock out since the half week way back at the beginning of sabbatical.

First, I identified and backed up all the files I have on this crappy laptop that I haven’t yet managed to migrate to the cloud.  Then, I finally got all my common scripts and config files checked into GitHub.  Finally, I actually purchased a new Linux laptop.  After going back and forth for quite a bit between ZaReason and System76, I finally went with the ZaReason Alto.  System76 is a great company with a lot of fans, but the support at ZaReason is supposedly amazing, plus I like that they’ll give me a choice of many different Linux distros, as opposed to being stuck with Ubuntu.  I’m going with Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, but apparently has fixed most of the stuff that annoyed me about Ubuntu, and delivers the promise of “it just works” that Ubuntu never did, at least for me.

I also put in quite a lot of work on Method::Signatures, and got this close to making another new release.  I have one last problem on older Perls that I’m consulting with the Damian on.  Once I knock that out, that’s all the catching up on that module I wanted to do over sabbatical anyway, so I’ll mark that one done as well.

So that wraps it up for this week.  Next week: Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Cabin Week

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #5; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

As I mentioned last week, we spent this week at  Lake Cachuma, which is a county park north of Santa Barbara.  We went up Sunday night and came back Thursday afternoon.  While there, we stayed in a cabin with a fairly awesome view of the lake, although it was pretty chilly the whole time.

The cabin itself was nothing special: just one long space, divided into thirds.  The back third was a bedroom, the middle third was a bathroom on one side and two bunk beds on the other, the front third was a kitchen, a dining room table, and a couch that folded out into a bed.  Microwave, refrigerator, and stove, but no oven—no toaster, either, which was mildly annoying.  But there was a TV with a DVD player, a satellite dish that worked sometimes, and we set up our phones as mobile hotspots so everyone could use their laptops.  It was sufficient.

Monday we tried to go up to the Nature Center, but it was closed.  Went to the general store and bought some touristy crap.  Mostly we laid around.

Tuesday we went into Solvang, primarily to check out the Solvang Bakery, which everyone says is awesome (it’s pretty decent).  Other than that, it’s mainly a place to go shopping for crap that you didn’t really need anyway.  My eldest bought a hat, as did my youngest (although she had little say in the matter, being yet unable to speak English).  We also went to a nifty little New Agey shop where the Larger Animal bought a tiny little Buddha and I bought a “Lucky Horse” (my Chinese zodiac sign).  And we had some tacos that were decent but not overwhelmingly awesome.

Wednesday we finally did make it up to the Nature Center, where we saw lots of animals (stuffed, like by a taxidermist as opposed to a toymaker), and rocks, and bones, and some baby trout, and various and sundry other stuff.

Thursday we spent two hours trying to kill each other packing the truck, then an hour waiting for AAA to come jumpstart the battery that we’d drained while leaving all the doors open while packing.  The drive back was mostly uneventful.

Friday was recover-from-being-on-vacation day.

In terms of my sabbatical goals (refresh yourself on those by rereading Sabbatical Report 3), I’m behind across the board, but that’s mainly because I spent most of my free time at the cabin reading the latest installment of the Dresden Files.  But I finished that already (500 pages in 2.5 days!), so perhaps I’ll get caught up next week.  I’ve expunged 260 emails (instead of 300), I’ve expunged 5 todo tasks (instead of 15), and I’ve completed 31.5 project hours (instead of 45).  Still reasonable to catch up, I think, on everything except maybe the todo tasks, which is looking a bit bleak.

That’s all for this week.  Next week I’ll be doing more chilling at home, with perhaps a few day trips thrown in (I believe La Brea is on the schedule at some point).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Lazy Week

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #4; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

Just a quick update this week, as I still have several things to do before we leave tomorrow for Lake Cachuma.

First of all, last week I outlined my recurring personal goals during sabbatical.  Quick refresher: 100 emails cleared out of my inbox per week, 5 tasks permanently removed from my todo list per week, and 20 hours working on personal projects per week.  Well, this week I realized that 20 hours per week was just too ambitious.  So I’ve downgraded to 15 hours per week.  Roughly half as much time as I would spend on $work.  That’s still reasonable, right?

So where are at the end of week 2?  Well, I’ve expunged 202 emails, so I’m still a little ahead of schedule on that one.  I’ve still only managed to remove 4 todo tasks (yes, yes: exactly the same as last week), so I’m less than halfway there on that one.  I’m behind on projects too, even with my revised goal: only 22.5 hours out of 30, so about three-quarters of the way for that one.

In terms of project accomplishments, I’ve moved a bit farther along on identifying any files I may need to get off this laptop.  I’ve also started on (just barely, in most cases) 4 new projects.

First, I’m planning to check all my configuration files into a GitHub repository.  I’ve been carrying around my Linux config files and personal scripts and all that sort of stuff for years using Unison.  Then I switched to Dropbox, but still use Unison occasionally for places (mainly at work) where sysadmins don’t care for Dropbox’s constant pinging out to the Internet.  Now, of course, all the rage is just to check all that stuff into GitHub and then check it out on each new machine.  Since I already have a system to get what I want onto new boxes, I don’t care much about the convenience aspect of it.  But creating a config repo also gets you versioning, so you can check what changes you’ve made over time, which is nice.  Still wouldn’t be enough to push me to make the switch, but the really nice thing about using GitHub is it makes it easy to share your personal scripts with your friends.  That’s what finally decided me.  So now I’m working on cleaning up my config stuff: paring it down, removing anything I don’t have permission to share, making sure I didn’t leave any personal info (like passwords) in the files, etc.

Next is working on my custom Heroscape figures rebasing.  I’ve talked about our C3V work before, and I mentioned that we take figures from other games and reuse them as Heroscape figures.  Some of those other figures have bases that are very similar to Heroscape bases.  And some have bases that are very not.  Those latter have to be cut off their old bases and glued onto new ones.  So far, I’ve purchased the new bases, organized all the figures to get them ready for rebasing, and located all my supplies.  Except I seem to have lost or destroyed my utility knife.  So I need to get one of those.  But I’ve still actually managed to get two figs rebased, including the quite awesome dragon Quahon.

Next up, I made a suggestion to the author of Pod::WikiDoc on some alternate syntax.  I want to start using this awesome module for documenting my own modules—I personally find POD unberably ugly—but I always hate retraining my fingers.  Besides underscore-surrounded words just look like italics to me now.  (Tildes? not so much.)  I’ve forked the repo, cloned it, and started staring at the source in order to figure out the best way to make the alternate syntax work.  This includes brushing up on my Parse::RecDescent skills, which have never been more than neotenous.

Finally, I’ve started doing the background research for choosing a Linux laptop.  I know that Mac Airbooks are all the geek rage these days—the prices aren’t as shockingly out of reach (still a bit shocking), and Mac OSX is based on a version of Unix, and you certainly can’t say it doesn’t just work right out the box—but I’m a keyboard person at heart.  I use the mouse mainly when I’m forced to.  And I had a Mac laptop for a while, and it forces you to a lot.  Like, a whole lot.  Drove me absolutely insane.  Just simple stuff like selecting words without the mouse I found impossible (or so close to it to be not worth making the fine distinction).  Maybe it’s better these days.  Maybe I don’t want to spend the time or effort to find out.  I do want a laptop that just plain works, sure: but Linux has come a long way.  The desktop versions pretty much do work straight out of the box.  The laptops are just lagging behind.  So I’m probably going to end up paying about twice what I would for a Windows laptop that I would strip down and Linux-ize myself, but not the three times as much that a Mac would cost me, which I couldn’t strip down if I wanted to.  I’ve spent many many hours installing / configuring / maintaining Linux on my own.  I’m ready to pay a little extra for the privelege of having someone else deal with it.  So I’ve started the research, and right now I’m leaning towards ZaReason.  Partly because they’ve got some great machines, but partly because they’ll put something other than Ubuntu on it, which I hate.  I’ve tried many many versions of Linux throughout the years—Slackware, Debian, RedHat, Mandrake, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mandriva, that I can remember—and Ubuntu is close to the botom of that list.  Many people like it, I presume because it’s very “Microsofty” (that is, it’s convinced it knows what you want better than you do).  I, of course, hate it for that very reason.  But I’m really getting disgusted with Fedora these days too.  The incessant need to jam Gnome 3 down my throat, the ridiculously short support windows, and of course the install program snafu that cost me several gigabytes of data that I’m still trying to recover over four years later.  So I’m leaning towards trying out a new option: Linux Mint.  I’m particularly excited to explore the differences between MATE and Cinnamon, and the ease of switching back and forth between the two sounds heavenly.  Anyway, that’s where I’m leaning at the moment.  But I’m still going to do some more research.

So that’s it for my personal goals.  Moving onto the family time for this week.

Monday we were going to go to the National History Museum, but it was rainy and cold, so we decided to do some Christmas shopping instead.  Typically we do the bulk of the Christmas shopping online so we don’t have to deal with any crowds.  But we figured, pre-Christmas-break, on a weekday, in the middle of the day, at our local Town Center strip mall instead of a major indoor mall, we’d probably be okay.  Which we were, other than the persistent danger of freezing to death.  We bought some Christmas candy, went to The Mother‘s favorite jewelry store, ate hot dogs on a stick,* and hung out with some old fat dude who dresses funny.**

Wednesday we were supposed to go see the Christmas lights in Griffith Park, but again that didn’t happen.  We were just being majorly lazy this week.

Friday we did a homeschool field trip to the Getty Villa.  They’re having a Pompeii exhibit.  Want to know what I learned at the Getty Villa?

  1. There were lots of naked women at Pompeii.
  2. There were a few naked men too.  But mostly naked women.
  3. Hercules was so cool that everything he did was immortalized.  This includes taking a piss.
  4. The only piece of art at the Getty Villa that you’re actually allowed to touch is a marble statue of a naked woman.  Seriously, guys: my teenage boy does not need the encouragement.

So that was fun.

And that about wraps it up for this week.  Next week, as I said up top, we’re off to a cabin by the lake.  Which hopefully is quite different from a cabin in the woods.

* Honestly, only the Smaller Animal had hot dogs on a stick.  But we all had the fries, and dug the cherry lemonade.  Yum.

** Note: If you’re not friends with me on Facebook, that picture may not load for you.  But, then again, if you’re not friends with me on Facebook, why do you want to see pictures of my family anyway?  Don’t be pervy, man.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Goals

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #3; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

This week I concentrated on nailing down what I want to accomplish on my sabbatical.  Of course, I want to spend some extra time with my family, and do a few touristy things, as I mentioned in the original sabbatical report (see above).  But I also want to work on some personal projects, and I thought it wise to give myself some concrete goals.  Otherwise I’ll sit on my ass for 6 weeks and accomplish nothing except watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of holiday candy, and I’ll feel stupid and lazy (and fat) when my sabbatical is finally over.  So I decided to give myself goals.  And I’ve been fiddling with them, trying to get them to a point where they’re achievable, but not too easy.  I think I’m there finally.

First thing I did was give myself a little padding at either end.  My sabbatical is six weeks long in the sense that it’s 42 days, but it’s not actually six calendar weeks, because it started on a Wednesday.  So it’s really like half a week, then 5 weeks, then another half a week.  I decided that my goals would be applied during the 5 week stint.  The half weeks on either side would just be used to ease into it, and then to ease back out of it.

So, during the 5 weeks (of which this week was the first), I’ve decided to accomplish 3 broad goals.  I’ll explain them, from simplest to most complicated.

First, I’ve decided to finally clear out my (personal) inbox.  I got my Gmail account about 8 years ago, mainly as a backup account.  I still had my own business back then.  But, as time went on, and my company’s servers gradually stopped working, my Gmail “backup” became my main email account.  By the time I realized this, though, my inbox was already a mess, and it hasn’t gotten any better since then.  Oh, I read my emails (well, most of them), but I never seem to actually do anything with them.  I need to file them, or delete them, or maybe even reply to them every now and again.  When I looked at my inbox at the beginning of my sabbatical, there were nearly 500 emails in my inbox.  Fine: 500 emails, 5 weeks—all I need to do is clear out 100 emails a week and I’ll start back to work with a clean inbox.  I’m happy to say I’m currently on track (ahead of schedule, even) with this goal: my inbox right now stands at 352.

Secondly, I have a todo list.  There are two sorts of items on this todo list: things that need to be done once and then can be deleted permanently, and recurring tasks.  My recurring tasks, of course, never actually leave the todo list.  They float to the top sometimes, I do them, then I punt them back to the bottom until it’s time to do them again.  These are things like doing my laundry, fishtank maintenance, grocery shopping, etc.  But the one-time tasks are the more interesting ones.  I do the recurring ones—every week, or every month, or whatever—but I do them.  They never get passed over.  But those one-time tasks ... they just sit there a lot of the time.  Over time, they accumulate.  Before you know it, you’ve got stuff on your todo list you’ve been meaning to accomplish for a year and never touched.  It makes you feel sort of lame.  So I decided I would take advantage of sabbatical time to prune that list a little.  I figured, I’ll do 1 task every day.  Then I decided to make it 1 task every weekday—save the weekends for the recurring tasks, and maybe some chilling out time.  5 weeks, that’s 25 tasks, which must all be one-time tasks, and they must all have been on the list when sabbatical started—no cheating by adding new one-time tasks and then doing them, because that doesn’t actually help achieve the goal of shrinking the overall list.  So this week I should have accomplished 5 tasks, but so far I’ve only got 3.  Maybe I’ll sneak in 2 more before tomorrow.

Finally, the big stuff.  Over a month ago, I started making a list of bigger projects I wanted to accomplish during sabbatical.  Some were short, well-defined tasks, like pulling out my old mountain bike and taking it to a bike shop (which necessitates actually locating a bike shop, of course) and either having it fixed, or having it pronounced dead and buying a new one.  I might actually exercise if I had a working bike.  (I probably won’t, but we’ll never know unless we try, no?)  Others were more nebulous, like working on my book, which could go on for quite a while and never see completion.  So the trick here was to figure out how to turn these larger projects, with all sorts of different lengths and levels of achievability, into concrete goals.

My original thought was to just try to polish off X projects a week.  There were several problems with this plan.  First off, some of them didn’t have definitive endings, as I mentioned.  But, worse: I had so many that I would need to polish off one every day to get them all, and that wasn’t even remotely practical.  Plus I’d need to start one, work on it frantically, and take it all the way to completion before I could mark it off and move on to the next task.  That’s too much like work, which is what I taking the sabbatical to get away from.  I need to be able to hop around from task to task, doing whatever mood strikes me, but still working towards concrete goals.  On top of everything, the fact that some tasks would take only a few hours, while others might go on for days, meant that I would have no idea how to make sure I was on track for hitting my targets.

So I hit on the idea of counting my hours.  When I work on work stuff, I track my hours.  (This comes from many years of being a consultant who gets paid by the hour.)  I know that, in a 40-hour work week, I generally achieve about 30 hours of real, solid work.  I briefly considered trying to do 30 hours per week on sabbatical.  I promptly discarded this idea.  What’s the point of being on sabbatical if you can’t slack off a little?  But not too much ... I’m currently trying to achieve 20 hours per week instead.  Of course, so far I’ve only got twelve, so that’s a poor start.  But, hey, I’ve actually achieved a few cool things.

First off, I just released a new version of one of my CPAN modules, Method::Signatures.  This involved fixing a few niggling bugs and just getting things organized and properly put out on the Internet.  I really love making progress on this particular module, because it’s probably the most high-profile thing I’m known for (even though I didn’t write the original version), and I hope to expand on it even more as time goes on.  I don’t know if I’ll ever actually have a Perl legacy, but, if I ever do, this will probably be the cornerstone of it.  If you’re into Perl, you can read more about this latest release on my other blog.

Secondly, I figured out how to make a “lab” (i.e. a personal page for my custom creations) on my favorite Pathfinder site,  So far it’s just an empty page, but you’d be surprised how much effort it took to get even that far.  Google Sites may be an awesome thing (not saying it is yet, only that it may be), but intuitive it ain’t.

Finally, I started working on the project of identifying all local file modifications to my laptop.  This is necessary for upgrading to a newer laptop, which is another project on the list.  So far, I’ve got a list of directories, sorted in order by the modification date of the most recently modified file, with the obvious stuff (like the /tmp directory, or my Dropbox directory, which is already on the cloud and thus doesn’t need to be backed up) removed.

So I’m 8 hours short, but I’m not feeling lame.  Yet.  I may have to revise my weekly goals to 15 hours though.  We’ll see.

Anyway, I have to wrap this up now, as we’re out to pick up yet yet another furry child.  Should keep the holidays interesting ...