4 Questions for 2016

Rummaging back through my 2015 posts, I found that I had set a bunch of goals for myself. Sure, I accomplished a few things last year. I moved, put another 10,000 words on my novel, and read 88 books (okay, most of them were graphic novels and audio books, but still). Other goals were kind of a bust, like restarting one of my old blogs, or setting up a twitch streaming channel. There was only one difference between the goals I achieved and the goals that I did not. It’s all habit. Just about everything that I’ve completed or finished last year came down to whether I was working on it every day for a given length of time. It’s one of those dull truths that you can only learn from experience.

Now that it’s a new year, I want to change my focus. Last year, it was all about finding out how to achieve, now I want to find out how to make a bigger impact. So instead of having goals for 2016, I want ask some basic questions to frame my actions. It’s about making better choices about what do, rather than how to do it. Here’s what I want to know in 2016:

1. How do I create community?

Throughout my life I’ve put a lot of emphasis on going it alone or taking the path less travelled. It’s given me the courage to seek out a lot of new experiences and take on unusual challenges. However, that effort only really pays off when you can share it with a great community.

Communities have brought us the current convention scene, hospitals, and copious amounts of open source software. There is still a lot I don’t know about them, though. How do you create a good community? How do you keep a good one going? I guess my first step to figuring this one out is to contribute more. I need to share things that I’ve found or created. I also need to encourage everyone else who tries to do the contributing. So, if you like to share your work, expect my likes and comments.

2. How do I use my knowledge to help people?

It’s a funny thing. The older I get, it feels like my knowledge is getting rarer. Everyone gets in to more specialized fields and suddenly I have more friends who don’t know about computers than those who do. How can I share that knowledge in a way that can help a lot of people? The great thing about sharing knowledge is that doesn’t cost anything to distribute. Even 20 years ago if you wanted to educate people you at least needed to print out a pamphlet or something. These days all it takes is a Facebook page and you are off to the races. The trick then, is to know what people want to know at any particular place and time.

3. How do I automate more?

Automation is the very soul of my career. Programming takes human thought and it applies it to the same repetitive tasks, over and over again. It frees your brain up for the sort of specialized thinking that humans are good at, but machines aren’t. Of course, automation doesn’t need to apply to just machines. I agonize over a lot of little decisions, such as when to place a phone call, where I really should just make a choice and accept the consequences.

4. How many cute little cafes can I take my wife to?

There’s this place in Aberdeen Center called the Sugarholic cafe. It had well-dressed wait-staff and a lot of crown moulding. I had a croquette sandwich, and Sara had some crab pasta. I want to find more places like that.

So there you have it. A little bit of navel-gazing, but with a direction to look outward. I’m still going to work on stuff, too. The novel is going to be DONE this year, come hell or high water. Beyond that, I’m not going to plan any future side projects. I’m going to be in a different head space once this one is done, so I can make the decision when I get there. Other than that, I’ll just try to keep my house clean, get to work on time, and hang out with my family on the weekend.

A wish for a Nice and Normal 2016

2015 started out normally enough. I managed to hold a programming job for all of two christmases, and we had saved enough to start looking for a house. The Seahawks lost the superbowl, which may have been an omen or something, but we were all too busy talking about the guy in the shark suit at the half-time show. It wasn’t easy getting our apartment out in the market. While it was spacious with 9 foot ceilings and granite countertops, it nonetheless was only a few blocks from downtown Abbotsford, which made buyers kind of nervous. Still, Sara and I had a lot of emergency cleaning sessions, and we had to hide out at our parents’ houses a few times while strangers were checking out all our stuff.

Trouble erupted when I was laid off at the end of May. I couldn’t even properly languish in self-pity since we had to keep the apartment clean for a showing that weekend. I had managed to avoid commuting for over 5 years, but it looked like I was going to go over the Port Mann bridge once again for my daily bread.

I had buckled myself in for a long an protracted unemployment, when in late July a job offer came into my inbox from a nice online ad company in New Westminster. My luck was about to rebound in a big way. The next thing I knew I was on a cruise yacht in English Bay with my new co-workers for their Summer barbecue. That same week, we found a buyer for the apartment – but we had to move out by the first weekend of September – right when Sara would be starting school!

The race was on to find us a new home. With our apartment sold, we didn’t have to put a “subject to sale” clause on our offer. At our next property tour, we found a nice home on a country main road. It was clean and well maintained, something that we found out was hard to come by when you are buying houses. What’s more, it had a basement. A bunker for Gavin and I to call our own!

We made our offer immediately. Surely, our days of emergency cleaning would be over! The call came on Friday. They had accepted an offer from another buyer. Sara and I tried to come to terms with a possible future in couch-surfing. On Sunday, we got another call from our realtor. The other buyer had called the real estate office, and said that they were retracting their offer due to a family emergency. The house was ours.

We managed to cram everything we owned into my parents’ garage, and for the next two weeks Sara, Gavin, and I lived out of my Parents house. In late September, we moved in. After 10 years of apartment living, I was in a house again.

After a lot of twists and turns, the Strocels have ended 2015 in a safe place with a double a garage and a fridge full of food. There is so much to be thankful for! Our family and friends have given us so much in helping us move. Sara is now team leader at her school, and I love my new job. Gavin is still learning and growing like any three-year-old should. 2016 might have its own hiccups, but for now, I’m just going to savour the present.

Voting 2015

Yesterday I went to an Advance poll to vote early. My station at a local middle school was lined up out into the rain for most of Monday. Over 2.4 million people voted over the weekend, a 16% increase over the last election. Either we are in a titanic struggle for the soul of our country for the next four years, or we have finally discovered how to use awkward Thanksgiving political conversations for peaceful purposes.

Still, the Conservatives will probably win in my riding no matter who I vote for. The fate of our leadership ultimately rests on what goes on in Ontario and Quebec anyhow. I don’t like it, but I’m putting my ballot in anyways. Like many democratic rights, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

If I can’t have the election I want, at least I can make sure my fellow voters are well-informed. If you want to know what your local MP has debated on or how they voted, go to openparliament.ca. It contains full text transcripts of every parliament since 1994. Included are also the voting records on every bill since then, such as the Anti-Terror Act Bill C-51, the Strengthening of Canadian Citizenship act Bill C-24 and The Fair Elections Act Bill C-23.

You can just type the issues you care about into the search box and find out how your MPs have acted on them in real life as opposed to their campaign promises.

Now here’s where I turn into your disapproving Dad and tell you to vote. As a favour to me. I know you think you are just encouraging them, and I know you think you can’t make a difference. I’m not asking you to vote for the benefit of any one party. I want you to think you have a say in this country’s future. It’s a little trick of human nature. If I can get you to go through the motions of heading to your local school gym and ticking that box, you may start to think of yourself as someone who cares about what’s going on in Ottawa and will take action when the need arises. If that happens, then we just might have a chance at having some real change in this country.

August/September Review: Well, that was fast.

So I thought figuring out my new job and commute would be a mad dash. Clearly the universe did not believe I knew the meaning of a mad dash. It. proceeded to remind me.

No sooner had I spent a week on the job when Sara and I finally got an offer on our condo. It had been on the market for 6 months, and there were so many false starts and lightning-round cleaning sessions that we had begun to lose hope. A university student needed our place for the coming fall semester, and suddenly we were out on a property tour again. The first few houses were underwhelming, with the kind of upkeep that I can only classify as a “renovator’s dream”. Then a vision appeared off a former country main road. It had a double garage, a backyard, a spacious kitchen, and a basement. Not a suite mind you, but a basement that I could put an office in while I watched Gavin in the rec room! After some deliberation, we put in an offer. It was rejected, and we were suddenly faced with the prospect of being homeless. 48 hours later, we learned that the other buyers had dropped their offer. The house was ours.

So I had gone from taking sad selfies while job-hunting at the local library to commuting to an exciting new job, packing everything I owned into my parents’ garage, and staying in their basement while we waited to take possession. It was completely nerve-wracking having to co-ordinate things over the phone while on my lunch break. Fortunately, my amazing wife, who coordinates 60 12-year-olds for living, made sure our family was in good hands. She managed to fit all of this in even as she started the new school year as teacher team leader. Thanks, Honey!

In the end, we made it into our new house, I’m typing this at my very own desk in my very own study, and I have not done ANY side-project work since my last blog entry. However, I’m ready to get back to it with some new strategies.

Now that I’m working at company that doesn’t require me to bring my own computer, everything I do on my Macbook is either for entertainment or professional development. I’ve got a little tool installed called “RescueTime“, that tracks which apps or websites I’m working on at any given time. I used it before a performance analysis tool to measure my focus, but I think I can now use it as a time-tracker. I can also set goals on it so I can improve my time management step by step. Plus I get all these cool infographics breaking down my time. Why don’t we take a look at August and September?

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 9.07.29 PMScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 9.07.37 PM
Wow, that is a lot of red there. Okay, it looks like I’ve got some work to do here. That’s okay! I can also use the pomodoro technique to enhance my focus. The pomodoro technique involves working in 25-minute bursts broken up by a 5 minute break. I’ve tried to use it before over an 8 hour day, and I felt it didn’t really work since I might forget to take my break or I would forget to track my time properly. If just do one or two pomodoro sessions tonight, I might be able to stick to it.

June/July 2015 Review: Landing on My Feet

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Here’s the thing about a job search. As soon as it’s going really well, it’s over. Until then, it’s going poorly, which makes it really awkward to post any updates. Sure, I could be bringing inspiration to anyone else who is going through the same thing, but with all the support I’ve gotten from my family and friends, my plight was really the most first world of first world problems. Now, it’s all over. I’m starting a new web developer job in New Westminster next month. At 7 weeks, this is one of the shortest lulls in employment I’ve ever had. So what else is new?

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Nelson. My wife’s family decided having 3 cousins under the age of 3 simply was not enough excitement, so we brought them on an 8 hour drive into the Kootenays for the 60th wedding anniversary of my wife’s godparents. Good, and surprisingly incident-free times!

I was able to keep up with a few side projects while I was looking for work. The hours I put in, or lack thereof, really showed me just how important ritual and routine are to your productivity. I am also still trying to sell my condo through all this, so if I’m not filling out job applications or going out to interviews, I might be either cleaning the apartment for a showing or taking my son out so my wife can do the same. I also tried to switch from using a notebook to track my time to using iOS notes and transferring the entries to freckle. For some reason, I couldn’t keep up with typing my hours on a computer. Just like my son needs a glass of milk and have three books read to him before bed, I need to put my time into a moleskine notebook (which I now refer to as “the binky”) and put the hours into freckle so I can do some reporting. On that note, here are my totals for June and July.

Open source work 10.5 hours
Code speaks louder than resumes in today’s job market. This time I decided to immerse myself in the open source process and contribute to some actual projects. I was able to contribute to 2 projects, Ginatra and Empirical Core. I’ll be writing a blog post soon about how I did it.

Seating Plan Project 14.25 hours
Of course, it’s also important to spearhead your own ventures. I hadn’t worked on this one for a really long time, so most of the libraries had to be updated. I really have to get used to the structure of JavaScript. When you want things to happen in sequence, you can’t just type out e function you want on the next line. You have to nest function inside each other like a matryoshka doll. It’s counterintuitive, but I think this will really help me if I ever have to put together systems that have to work in real time.

Novel 2.75 hours

The dream lumbers forward at over 16000 words!

Indie game project 3.5 hours

I managed to follow a tutorial that got a character to walk across the screen, but that’s about it. I might be psyching myself out over the idea of working with a physics engine. I really should just focus on getting ideas out there so I can keep my momentum going.

The new job starts on August 4th, so I’m going to be on a little bit of a summer vacation until then. After that, it’s going to be a mad dash to figure out my new office, my new commute, and how to spend whatever little time I have left over. As always, if I learn something useful that I can share, I’ll be sure to pass it on to you here. Until next time!