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!

May 2015 Review: It’s that time again!

Well then, May sure was super eventful this year! I put 2 hours into my novel, I started a new gaming project with my friends in Seattle, they announced X-com 2, something else happened in the news, and Tomorrow Land was certainly a surprise hit for this Memorial Day. Oh, and I also got laid off.

Don’t worry, I’m okay! There were no hard feelings, we have plenty of savings, and the recruiters were very happy to talk to me last week. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shake up. It probably means I’ll have to commute into Vancouver, but that also means I’ll be in touch with some colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. Last week I managed to get through a lot of IT and sysadmin work at my house. It just seemed to pile up because I was at work all the time. Of course, there’s a lot more time for side projects now.

It’s tempting to spend all my time sending out resumes, but it’s going to be the side projects that land me a new gig. They are actual examples of my work. They will carry a lot more weight than sentences “I am a detailed oriented professional capable of working individually and as part of a team.” I also get the chance to fill some gaps in my knowledge without a deadline getting in the way.

The project that I hope to get finished this month is a seating plan app I started some months ago for my wife. I also want to get really deep into that gaming project I mentioned earlier. As for the novel, well, I think I’ll give it an hour a day and just see what happens. Onward and upward!

Give and Take

 

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Another book that’s had a significant effect on me is “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” The theory behind the book is that successful people are distinguished by their reciprocity style. First there are Takers, who focus on how they look towards the group and rush to take credit for their work. Their logic is, if I don’t look out for myself, who will? Matchers rely on an equitable system of favours to get ahead. Givers focus on helping as many people as they can. Givers are a particularly interesting case because they make up both the top and bottom performers in many different studies. Givers who help people with no regard for their own interests make up the bottom performance rung because they are too busy helping other people to focus on their own work. Givers at the top have structured their giving so that a maximum number of people can be helped for as little effort as needed.

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givetakeI took the survey on the book’s website, giveandtake.com. I may have been a little primed by the book, but here’s how my tendency results broke down: 73% giver, 14% matcher, 13% taker. You need to ask your friends to rate you for a better assessment, but I have no idea who will take me up on that!

This could have implications for how I choose my side projects. Now the book hinted at, but never really went into, how Giving can work in the digital age. The Internet is a communications network, and its greatest strength is that the cost of reaching one additional person is zero. That means you can educate one person or a thousand without any additional effort. Does this mean I should choose my projects with a bias towards stuff I could share over the internet? If I’m working on a talk, should I create a video to practice? Should I do a freelancing project that helps one person, or fix an open source bug that helps thousands? Should I take a policy that states, “If I can’t share it, don’t do it”?

I do believe that the internet’s potential remains underused. If I’m going to get anyone else to believe that, I’d better start practicing what I preach. The next time I program in my free time, maybe I should start a google hangout and post it on youtube. Programming projects always take an indefinite amount of time. It could be weeks or months before I produce something I can share. If I post my process for everyone to see, maybe that can inspire more people to take up programming, or at the very least educate people on what I do. It won’t be much, but if I’m motivated to give, I had better start doing it early, and often.

March/April Review (Sorry!)

Long story short, a combination of freelancing, holidays, and general malaise has put me a behind on my time tracking. For the interested, I put in 22 hours in March, and 14 hours in April, most of it freelancing. I did manage to make a talk proposal for CascadiaJS. It was painless. Mostly. I didn’t get in, but then again I was running against 300 speakers with more polished presentations. Unfortunately, none of my other projects have seen much time from me recently. I need to fix that this month.

There’s this book that I read (or rather, listened to) recently that really opened my eyes to some new opportunities. The first is called “Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck Guide to Self-Publishing Success”. I used to think self-publishing was just for web-comic artists and indie musicians, but it turns out that there is this entire market of self-published novelists out there. It is actually possible to support yourself as a writer entirely from the sales of e-books.

It’s not an easy process, but consider the alternative. If you write a novel, you can’t just send it in to the publisher and they’ll turn you into a bestseller. You have to send it in to an agent who will have to market your book in your stead, and they all have stacks of unpublished scripts to sift through. Even if an agent gets around to reading your manuscript and decides that it’s fit to publish, they have to contend with the publisher wanting that kind of novel for what they think their distributors will want 2 years from now. And at the end of the process, they get to keep 90% of the money made off that book, and they won’t even begin to send you royalty checks until you’ve paid off your advance.

Now, I like writing, but that process is what you might call a serious disincentive. Sure, it might build character, but by that logic, so does punching a tree.

If you self publish, you get to pick your own cover, your own type set, and you know exactly where to send readers to buy your work. Plus, you get to keep 70% of the money. At the very least, you can get a few friends to buy a pity copy and get feedback so you can become a better writer.

However, in order to get that feedback, you’ll need to have written a book first. I’m going to take a new approach to finishing my NanoWrimo novel. I am going to schedule 4 half-hour writing sessions a week. That will be my priority one project over the next month. I’ll be measuring my word counts, and my hope is that I can train myself to put out enough material so that I can start editing.

Canadian Chicken Karaage

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Ugh, what a week. It started off with me finding out that I am officially too old to stay in hotels less than $100 a night. The rock hard mattress and odd stains I can take, but screaming drunks at 3:00am are just past my threshold. It ended off with a mad dash to get the condo clean for some buyers to look at it. Suffice to say, there hasn’t been much time for projects this week. There’s not even enough time to make dinner, as you can see. Last night, we got some frozen chicken nuggets, bulldog sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, rice and vegetables, and put together something I like to call Canadian Chicken Karaage! It’s actually not bad, and in many ways, it is like this post: a set of random elements to nourish you after a busy week.

I bought an Acer Liquid Z5 Android phone to help me out with Costco. It was cheap, came without a contract, but came with Costco’s generous return policy if things don’t work out. I might make a review post after I spend some time hacking around with it.

March 15th is the deadline for the Call for Proposal on CascadiaJS talks. One week for me to fail at giving programming talk proposals. It’s a longshot, but I need to at least try. The conference is in Semiahmoo, not far from the Birch Bay cabin my family likes to stay at. My lodging would be basically paid for!

I just bought the audio book of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. It’s changing the way I think about conflict, but’s also giving me a spidey sense for all the stupid things I say on a daily basis, but it only kicks in about 6 seconds after I’ve said a stupid thing. I wish I could turn it off now!

So we have new books, new challenges, and new devices to start off the week. I feel like I’m just making do with what I have, but what I have is pretty good right now.