Finding Time For Personally Awesome Projects Using Freckle

Freckle Screenshot

It’s good to be serious about your hobbies. Personal projects not only widen you horizons, but they give you new skills to apply in your day job. The question, as always, is how do you find the time? It’s really an odd question, if you think about it. Are you supposed to scrounge around for spare minutes in the couch or something?

Nevertheless, you’ve got to juggle modern life with your time in front of the computer, crafting counter, or whatever you are working on. I try to use a scientific approach when trying to find time for my programming or my writing. I track the time take for my personal projects and review it to see where I can get more time.

To do this, I use a free account on a web app called Freckle ( It’s a freelance time tracking program with easily the best user interface I have ever seen for a program like this. The entry interface is unbelievably simple, there is a mobile app for any entries, and it also lets you hashtag your entries to control for factors like context or individual tasks. It also creates these neat reports for you like the one at the top of this post. Of course, if you have a paid account, (it’s $19 a month) you can divide that pie chart there into multiple projects, allowing for even more data visualization.

I’m usually able to squeeze in about 3-4 hours a week this way. Now that I look at this report, I may add tags to show where I do my work. I’d be interested to know how much writing I get done on the bike at the gym!



We Create Polite Society

When I first ran across Gamergate, I thought it was a joke. It had to be. What kind of person gets upset when women get better representation in video games? Also, there was no evidence that the game industry was under any kind of threat from governments, feminists, or anyone else. It’s not like you got stopped at the airport for carrying a play station vita or anything like that.

The more I heard about Gamergate, the more dismayed I became. The harassment, the doxxing, and the terror threats were bad enough. What really crushed my faith in humanity was that so many more people were willing to believe that all of the threats against female developers were just a fabrication of a vast feminist conspiracy. One or two deranged wackos is one thing, but to have thousands of people building and supporting the narrative that makes all this insanity possible? It makes you want to quit the internet entirely.

If only it were that easy. Last week we saw the results of another internet-borne narrative with the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. ISIS, the terrorist group claiming ties to the attack, is famous for its internet video propaganda, which media outlets are only too happy to spread.

So what can we do? If we start banning speech from the internet, we go back on our most basic democratic values. If we just let people listen to stuff like this, they can just stay in their echo chamber until shooting up a newspaper sounds like a great idea.

The only thing we can do is make more speech. Make OUR speech. The thing that Gamergate and ISIS have in common is that they both used the internet, the most advanced communication system in history, to make themselves heard. And the key word here is USED. They created forums, tweets, youtube videos, wikis, anything and everything possible to make sure that their word was the only one out there.

We have these tools too. We simply choose not to use them. Maybe it’s a lack of technical expertise. Maybe we tell ourselves that we have better things to do. Maybe we are just afraid no one will hear us. The truth is that when we post online, even if it’s something simple like “I like artsy Japanese video games”, we create knowledge. In this case, I am acknowledging the existence of artsy Japanese video games, and that I, being the person that I am, like them. It also creates a safe space, however small, for anyone else who likes artsy Japanese video games.

The point of this is that I am exercising a small bit of control over what other people can see and hear. The reason that movements like Gamergate exist is that their members produce enough content for someone to get completely immersed in their message. If we are creating our own messages that carry our own values, we can break that immersion. Media is not just for consumption any more. We decide what is on our screens now. We control the values, we control the content, and we create polite society.

To Be Social

It didn’t take me long to find some weasel language in my New Year’s ScoreCard Post.

“Build my professional Network”

Really? Planning to dig your well before you’re thirsty? Put yourself out there? Rejoin the Chamber of Commerce? Head down to the local business luncheon with a stack of business cards in one pocket and a stack of dreams in the other?

I know that’s not what I want. Not really. What I should have said, is that I want to be more social in 2015. That’s sounds a lot more general, but building my professional network sounds like I’m building a list of people I can leech off of.

Granted, when I was freelancing and I WAS trying to build my professional network, I was more social. I talking to a more diverse set of people. I met with personal coaches, theme-park owners, and inventors of sperm-count enhancing underwear. I am not making any of those up.

After I started to work full time, I had less incentive to go out and network. I also went to less conventions. My social universe has kind of shrunk over the past 2 years. This year I want to change that. The problem is, I’ve wanted to “change that” ever since the 8th grade.

I’ve always been an introvert, which means instead of getting energized by interacting with lots of people, it’s more like a workout for me. Don’t get me wrong, workouts are good! Plus there’s the fact that I’m going to let myself do all the talking. Yeah, ME. That annoying guy I know who repeats jokes way after they’ve been considered funny and who also zones out every time the conversation goes towards sports.

What the heck are people going to think when I just e-mail or text message them out of the blue to go out for coffee? It’s so out of character! Are they going to think I’ve finally hit rock bottom and joined a pyramid scheme? Maybe, but perhaps I need to look back at all the times that I’ve tried to reconnect with people. None of those fears turned out to be true. In fact, sometimes people have tried to reconnect with me, and it’s always been positive.

I think I need to recognize the role my fears have played in my behaviour. The rush of modern adult life has taken the community from us. We can’t expect to just run into our fellows in a giant cafeteria at school or work anymore. We can’t even rely on that one extroverted friend who can rally everyone together anymore. We also have access to some of the greatest communication networks the world has ever seen. If there was ever a time to take control of our social lives, that time is now.

New Year’s 2015: 2014 ScoreCard Edition

Some people might say year end posts are trite and obligatory, but I’m loving all the lengthy posts I’m seeing from people on my Facebook feed. The time of year might be arbitrary, but it’s nice to see everyone get introspective and hopeful for the future all at the same time.

As years go, 2014 wasn’t the worst, but it also wasn’t the greatest. I still have the same job I did last year, which was a first for me, but we also had to deal with a couple of minor car accidents and a Teacher’s strike. Between all that and the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, recent hacking scandals, and GamerGate, I think we’re all about ready to forget 2014 and wait for Marty McFly to show up in October.

Last year, I posted some yearly goals with some pictures of my rapidly growing son (who grows ever more rapidly still, God bless him). That means I get to make a scorecard!

Completed Goals

Save up for a house
Done! Bam! Now all I have to do is sell the old place and find a new one, right? RIGHT?!

Learn Test Driven Development for AngularJS
I’ve been able to use Jasmine for this, but I really hope to start test first for an AngularJS project this year.

Build a Raspberry Pi
I had a nice media centre going on for a few months, but I had to disconnect it after it switched on my TV at 3am for an online update.

Build at least one video game in any language
I created a 2D shooter using iOS’ spritekit framework. I think it’ll be more fun this year to just create games using middleware like Unity or Corona.

Incomplete Goals

I regret not coming back to this one. I’ve learned a lot this year about the role of online communities, and how I could be doing more to make the internet a better place. I want to look into using virtual assistants to do much of the grunt work for a relaunch, but it’s kind of hard to find information about them that’s not hocked by insane blogging gurus. Of course, I will post the results of my research here.

Build my own contact manager
I got as far as creating an excel spreadsheet that acted as a scorecard for all the social contact I tried to make for the month. I want to get better at rapid software prototyping this year to take it further. Incidentally, I’ve started work on a seating plan app for my wife’s classroom.

Rebuild my consulting business
I remained employed for the entire year, so this goal turned out not to be necessary! I still want to use the knowledge from this area of my life to enrich my job situation further.

Meet my MP or MLA
I think it would help to have a specific issue before contacting my local politicians, but I’m not sure what mine is yet.

Learn to Sew
Someday, I will be some kind of seamstress. Someday.

2015 Goals
Sell Apartment
Buy New House
REALLY revisit raingeek
Build my professional network
Host a free programming class
Finish Seating Plan App for Sara
Create a streaming video channel
Build and paint a model kit
Finish and edit NanoWrimo Novel

While we’re at it, why not go full force on the self-management track and pick out a few goals for January? It’ll give me something to blog about at the end of the month!

January Goals
Research Virtual Assistants to relaunch Raingeek
Write a blog post for every Monday
Write 10,000 words for my novel
Implement rules on the Seating Plan App
Review setup
Call local library about hosting classes

I still feel a little silly setting all of these goals like the Future Me is some kind Santa Claus for competency. I didn’t accomplish even half the goals I set for myself a year ago, but that shouldn’t diminish the goals that I managed to meet. It wouldn’t be productive to blame myself for those unfinished goals when there are so many other factors at play, including blind luck. If I’m willing to learn from my mistakes, build on my success, and make the occasional dice roll along the way, I can make my own luck.

Reflections On 10,000 Words

As I said before, for me to write a 50,000 word novel in November, particularly this November, would be impossible. And it was. Nonetheless, I managed to get 10,000 words down on paper last month. 10,000 words which survived a new client project, a sick child, software Side projects, and the release of X-com enemy unknown for iOS. Not bad, considering I decided to take up this mad quest on October 27th.

It was challenging, rewarding, and way less itchy than growing a movember moustache. It also got me thinking about why I stopped writing. Okay, I never really stopped writing, but I never really took it seriously as a career path. The dream of being a published author always took a back seat to my more immediate dream of not living in my parent’s basement. That’s the idea right? Write for pleasure, but don’t quit your day job. What if that day job takes 10 years to materialize?

It surprised me how easy it was to pick up writing everyday when I was writing for speed instead of brilliance. I was able to crank out 500 words easy on a recumbent bike at the gym. I found that the more time I gave myself, the less I wrote. If I had 2 hours to fill, I’d get distracted pretty easily. I think my biggest push was 2800 words on the last day of the challenge.

Just how is this novel? Terrible. Horrible. Full of convenient plot holes, characters drawn from real life friends, story elements that my totally embarrassing 14-year-old self would just find extra kewl. There are giant robots, aliens, and the immaculate scenery of the Pacific Northwest. However, as I looked back at what I wrote every day, I realized that now that this story was out there, in the universe, the notion that it’s just adolescent drivel could very well be just in my own head. Maybe after a second look my critical mind could fill in the blanks that my story needs. Maybe I could show it to someone and it will speak to them in a way that I cannot hear. Maybe none of that will happen, but the only way that I could assure hat my word amounted to little than sound and fury was if I did. Not. Write. Them. Down.

if I had to describe my NanoWrimo experience in one word, that word would be forward. I have moved forward towards a published book, to reintegrating writing into my life, and making my life experience all the more complete. I will finish this novel. I will be sending to friends agents and publishers to that it will be read. And next year, I hope to start this process all over agin.