Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This is why I work 9-5 and keep my door open

A drive-by comment from the head of department today:

"Wow, I'd never have believed it, a whole month of 2007 is gone already... And you've only just started back today, Styley!"

I pointed out that I have only been gone for two weeks, during which I tried to work on my thesis most days, and that I also came in to work almost every day of the week between Christmas and New Year. (Now why would he not already know this? Could it be because he took a month's holiday starting mid-December?) But he was already walking away and I don't think he heard me.

This is an ongoing issue for my otherwise wonderful, supportive department. The professors all assume that grad students who work off-campus, behind a closed office door, or who keep vampire hours are slacking losers and doomed to fail. If they don't see you with their own eyes, they don't believe you are working.

Alternatively, it is possible to sit in your office from 8 am to 10 pm doing nothing but surfing the internet, and to get a reputation as the most dedicated and driven graduate student to ever grace the university with your presence. (Sometimes I have been that person).

There is something screwed up about these assumptions.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Solution to all your Blogger Beta/New Blogger problem

Well, the main one, anyway.

Since I switched to the new Blogger, the thing that has bothered me most is signing in and out of my multiple Gmail accounts all the time. I have a pseudonymous account that is tied to this blog, and a real-name one that I use for real life email. If I accidentally post a comment on someone's blog without checking which account I am signed into, this can lead to embarrassing, undeletable comments left under my real name.

Also, I can't be editing this blog in one tab and open another to briefly check my real-life email.

The solution

Finally I have discovered a solution to this problem, which, while somewhat clunky, looks like it is going to work for me. And because I love you all so much, I am going to share my super-secret strategy.

Step 1: Use Firefox.

Step 2: Download this Firefox extension (ProfileSwitcher).

Step 3: Go to the File menu in Firefox and open up the newly listed Profile Manager.

Step 4: Set yourself up a new profile. Call it something like "blogging".

Step 5: Create two shortcuts to Firefox on your desktop. Name one of them "default" or "non-blogging" or something, and use this for your non-pseudonymous surfing. You can stay logged into your real life Google/Gmail account in this version of the browser all the time.

Step 6: Right-click on the other shortcut and select "properties". Name it "blogging" or similar. Paste -P blogging -no-remote onto the end of whatever is listed under "target" (it will initially say something ending in firefox.exe" so will become ...firefox.exe" -P blogging -no-remote). Replace the word "blogging" in there with whatever you named your new profile if you called it something else.

You're done! You should now have two shortcuts to Firefox, each of which opens in a different profile.

Okay, so how does this solve my problem?

You can now open up Firefox via the "blogging" shortcut whenever you want to read blogs/post to yours, or do anything pseudonymous. You can stay logged in to your Google account under your pseudonym in this window, and still open Firefox via the "default" shortcut in a separate window to do real life surfing.

In other words you can have Firefox running in two windows at once, each of which has you logged into Google under a different name. It's not as elegant as being able to open a new tab as a different user, but I still think it is a big improvement over having to log in and out all the time.

Note for Mac users

I know nothing about Macs, but the guy who made the ProfileSwitcher extension claims it only works for Windows and Linux. You can still do all this jiggery pokery on a Mac, but will need to use the command line and do different things for the shortcut, I guess. You can find some instructions here.

If you go to that last link, you'll see that I stole the info on how to set up two Firefox profiles from Lifehacker (plus the link to the ProfileSwitcher extension from the comments there). But Lifehacker doesn't see any reason why you'd want to run both profiles at once, whereas I think it's a great solution to a problem that's been plaguing me for months.

Geekman, child development expert

Me: "Ha, look at that toddler. It's like he knows he's supposed to be bipedal but hasn't quite figured out how it works."

We watch the kid pull himself to his feet and fall over a few times.

Geekman: "Send him back to the jungle and evolve him a bit longer. I don't think he's quite done yet."

I'm back! (And having a nervous breakdown)

There is a repairman sulking on our balcony.

We got home just after midnight last night, after 16 hours of traveling that involved seven different stages (car to Masterton bus depot, bus to Palmerston North, taxi to Palmerston North airport, plane to Sydney, train to Sydney Central, bus to our town, taxi to our house). We arrived at our front door feeling like this multiplied about a million times, and I couldn't wait to get into my own room, close the door and curl up in bed. I congratulated myself on the fact we had spring-cleaned before we left so that our apartment would feel all serene and welcoming when we came in.

We came in.

It was a disaster area. A muddy tarpaulin covered much of the lounge and pieces of bark and mud were scattered around on the floor. All our furniture had been shifted around to make room for the table and chairs from the balcony which were plonked in the middle of the lounge, leaving no room to move around or even put our bags down. The air-conditioning unit (the size of a small whale) took up all the floor space in the bathroom, and there were muddy footprints in the bath and dirt all over the sink. A tap in the bathroom was gushing water and wouldn't turn off.

After a brief nervous breakdown (and a doomed attempt to fix the tap) we said fuckit and went to bed.

This morning there was a heated discussion with the property manager and Tony the Renaissance Man during which they explained that they had taken advantage of our absence to pull up the entire flooring of the balcony and replace it, since the latest theory on why our place keeps leaking is that the water is seeping in through the balcony tiles and under the walls. There was also emphatic denial that any of Tony's 'boys' would have been in our bathroom at all (to which the presence of the air-conditioning unit on the bathroom floor was a pretty strong counter-argument) and assurance that the broken tap must have happened on its own.

Now usually I'm over-generous when dealing with these sorts of situations, but this time I was really mad. I might even have come out with a firm, "That's perfectly okay, please don't worry about it, but would you mind fixing the tap anyway please?", if fate (disguised as Telecom) hadn't intervened.

"Well, StyleyGeek, I'm pretty busy right now, but we might be able to send someone around tomorrow afternoon to get your air-conditioning set up again, and—" [crackle crackle crackle]
"Sorry, could you repeat that last bit? I can't hear you properly."
[crackle crackle crackle] "—well, you know—" [crackle crackle crackle]
"Your phone is breaking up."
[crackle crackle crackle] "—so, you see—" [crackle crackle crackle]
"Tony, can you hear me?"
[crackle crackle crackle] "—you have to understand—" [crackle crackle crackle]
"I didn't catch any of that."
"Are you there? StyleyGeek?" [crackle crackle crackle]
"I'm here, but I don't think you can hear me, and all I can hear is static."
"Fine. Look, I'm really sorry. I'll send the boys around right away to clear the place up."

I think from his end the conversation must have sounded like him trying to justify the situation, and me replying with stony silence. So he eventually talked himself into a place where he admitted responsibility and agreed to put it right. Yay for phone trouble!

And he did indeed come round with 'his boys' around right away. As I stood at the top of the stairs to open the door to them, I overheard him say to one of them, "Just bloody apologise, okay?" Which they didn't, despite another heated whispered exchange among them all out on the balcony. But Tony the Renaissance Man fixed the tap and left one of the repairmen behind to tidy things up, who, after a good ten minutes of scrubbing the carpet on his hands and knees and shooting me aggrieved looks, has now retreated to the balcony to sulk.

And now I feel all awkward and bad and evil, even though I'm pretty sure I'm the innocent party here. I just don't like playing the difficult customer, even when I have a right to it. I just hope they get the air-conditioning sorted soon, because after New Zealand, the temperatures here are a bit of a shock.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Polly wanna cracker?

This is a shameless plug for a friend's website, but I promise you she isn't paying me to do it. And it might actually be relevant for those thousands of my readers who have been so inspired by my photos that they have gone out and got themselves a pet parrot [insert irony here]. And now you're wondering how you can possibly entertain the poor wee thing. Never fear! Caroline and Jen will valiantly step into the breach and supply you with all the foot toys, hanging toys, perches and other accessories that will get your bird the street cred (s)he requires.

And Caroline's getting married on Saturday, which you might think is a complete non-sequitur, but you'd be wrong. The relevance is that I'm too cheap to give her a wedding gift, but a little bit of extra traffic to her site might sweeten her up a little so she doesn't feel neglected. So click here! (Or here!)

(Or here!)

(Go on.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I am such a mollusk

I just called my brother at work to let him know that his phone doesn't seem to be working for incoming calls at the moment. I got some guy who said my bro was with a customer and couldn't talk to me right then.

"Okay," I replied. "Please tell him his sister called, and to phone me back on [his home number]."

It was only after I hung up that I realised the flaw in my cunning plan.

Cool and funky things about New Zealand

$1.20 cakes at the local hot bread shop.

Calling bakeries 'hot bread shops'.

Thigh-high leather boots for $39 (Not in my size. Sigh.)

Blanket man.

Bilingual signs and labels.

There's a comet!

Not so cool and funky

Not seeing the comet yet because thick cloud has followed us everywhere we've been for the past 10 nights.

Feeling like I need to throw out my entire wardrobe and start again, because everyone here dresses way more interestingly than me.

Bloody great hills. The distance between my brother's place and the centre city is very short, as the crow flies. Unfortunately the crow flies over Mt Victoria, which goes Up a lot, mostly by way of confusing, unpaved tracks and the worst signposting I have ever seen. (Do I need to know that a scene from Lord of the Rings was filmed here? No. I need to know whether the path that branches to the left or the path to the right is the one that will come out by the Basin Reserve.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I had forgotten that when you order a hot dog in New Zealand, this is what you get.

Monday, January 22, 2007


There are too many of them. Specifically, in my room. Which is not my room, hence the many people who keep coming into it.

It has now been ten days since I have been anywhere where I could go into a people-less place and close the door and not expect someone to follow me in and rummage around (due to room-sharing considerations) or perch on the edge of the bed/couch and have a chat (due to me sleeping in the lounge and them feeling a need to 'entertain' me).

Right now we are at my brother's house in Wellington, which is funky and awesome*, but also has a bunch of funky and awesome flatmates, who insist on being funky and awesome at regular intervals all through the house. Oddly enough, my brother went out "for an hour or two to have coffee with friends" nearly two days ago and hasn't been seen again since. But that works out well, since there is only one room, and three of us competing for a bed. (His flatmates also seem to have a complex bed-sharing roster system due to some of them working by day and others having some sort of night job.)

I am feeling vaguely guilty for not making more of an effort to find out where my brother is, but his flatmates assure me he does this a lot and will be perfectly okay. Plus, no brother = fewer people! And people (in case you haven't guessed) are currently driving me up the fruitloop.

I think I need some quality time inside a sound-proof box.


* When I wrote this I meant to refer to 'my brother's house', but on consideration, Wellington is funky and awesome too, so I'll leave the ambiguity in.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sixth Carnival of GRADual Progress

is up at Working Writing Wailing Mama's, who has done a wonderful job, and I totally suck for not having drawn your attention to it sooner. So if you haven't been over there already, wander by and have a browse.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Places I'm going!

I'm really looking forward to our trip to New Zealand tomorrow. Look at all the weird-ass lovely places we are going to visit!

Going back to Christchurch will be especially strange, since it's where Geekman and I met when we were both at university there. Yesterday I realised that we haven't hung out in Christchurch together since April 1999, when I was still an undergrad, and he came to visit me on holiday from his investment banking career/disaster in London. Needless to say, that visit was all tense and anxious and desperate. It will be funny to visit our old haunts together now that we're living the happy-ever-after.

I'm taking the laptop, so might be able to blog now and then if I can steal someone's wireless. Otherwise you'll hear from me again in about a fortnight.

Be good, keep blogging, and don't eat all the cheese.

(PS: I got the map from this site, and the rest of the photos are probably infringing someone's copyright.)

Public service announcement

If you only clean under the keys on your computer keyboard once a year, it will end up looking like this:

And you will be sorry (and disgusted, and kind of freaked out, especially at the thought of what public terminals must be like).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


This description of summertime in New Zealand might be a little flowery and overly nostalgic. But it made me start looking forward to our trip on Friday.

I especially love this passage:

Summer is sunburned and snoozing, stoned and sated, sizzling a sausage, smoking outside in the warm evening, wanting and having sex, having and not wanting another drink but, oh well, it can't hurt. Summer is playing all sorts of games - summer is the dumb, happy childishness of New Zealand life. No one is around to tell us what to do, apart from the police, the fire service, surf lifesavers and the Department of Conservation.

Politics has closed down. Prime Minister Helen Clark is on holiday; you imagine her clenching her teeth as she stares down some light reading. The man who may be our next prime minister, John Key, is on holiday; you imagine him lying by the pool as he listens to audio tapes on how to develop charisma.

Read the rest here, shivering away in your icy Northern Hemisphere winters, and envy me my summer!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Do you know what today is? No, I thought not. Well, you only have yourself to blame if you don't pay attention.

If you had, you would know that today is the very special and exciting one year blogiversary of Fumbling Towards Geekdom!

Rather than get all sentimental and write screeds of heartfelt appreciation about what awesome readers I have and how much I love the feeling of community there is here (when everyone hasn't all buggered off on holiday for the whole of January), I'm going to keep the focus where it truly belongs: on me. (Why else have a blog?)

Below the peek-a-boo thingy, which I use to show how much I care about the Important Principles of Good Blog Design such as an uncluttered and maximally informative first page (see!), I am going to do one of those year-in-summary wotsits that I bravely resisted when they were going around like the flu in late December.* Rather than relying on the first sentence of each month to be at all interesting**, I am going to repost my favourite picture (which will probably be a parrot of some variety) and the first sentence or two of whichever non-photo, non-carnival post got the most comments that month.


Sunday afternoon café experimentation
After reading the discussion on productive writing strategies over at Bitch PhD a while ago, I decided to try out an approach that lots of people have suggested: the lurk-in-a-café-until-I-get-something-done strategy... [read the rest]


Changed my mind. I don't want to stay here after all
See this? See it? That is why you don't want to live in Australia if you have a heart condition. It's five minutes after I found him and my pulse is still racing like I just did a set of 80 kg squats... [read the rest]


How to confuse an Australian
There's (at least) one thing that Australians do that still catches me out every time... [read the rest]


I couldn't decide between these two photos for April, so I'm going to post them both.

Yeah, one of those
You know that moment when you suddenly realise something that you instantly know should have been obvious all along, but wasn't, and then you are hit with 20-something years' worth of cringing for every time you must have said something that let on that you didn't already know this thing and everyone else around you must have been thinking how naive you were? [read the rest]


Leaving, on a jet plane
The final exam for the course I tutor has been cancelled. This is because the draft exam timetable came out yesterday and our exam got scheduled for the final day of the exam period. And oops, ScaryLecturer has already bought tickets to Puerto Rico... [read the rest]


Waffle waffle
So we wanted to have waffles, see. And that required ice cream, see. And for perfectly good reasons that would disturb the flow of my story here, we couldn't cycle, but had to take the car to the shops... [read the rest]


See StyleyGeek be a bitch!
Here is a paraphrase of the emails I have been exchanging with a woman I met at the hostel in Brisbane... [read the rest]


The generational divide, or why my family thinks I am insane
My mother has threatened promised to call tonight. So I was making a mental list of what I can tell her about when she asks how I spent the weekend. The problem is that I don't think she will be able to identify, let alone identify with, any of the things I could mention... [read the rest]


Independent Property Group regularly makes me cry
You may remember this, this and this. Whatever the complete opposite of 'in love' is, I am in it with the real estate company that manages our property on behalf of the landlord... [read the rest]


Much as I'd love to write a novel, I had to decide that this year NaNoWriMo is probably not for me.... [read the rest]


There were two pictures I couldn't choose between for November, too.

Dirty little secret
Sometimes my office mate doesn't come in for days or weeks on end, and always leaves a half-full cup of tea sitting on her desk... [read the rest]


I need some new role-models
Hearing everyone's voices on these Snapvine players that people have been putting on their blogs has given me a complex... [read the rest]


* Sadly for you, it appears I don't care half as much about the Important Principles of Good Sentence Design.

** It's probably usually something like, "Hullo, it looks like it might be February now" or "My god, can you believe it is March already?"

Geekman's concept of 'helpful' differs from mine

"Geekman, I got an email from [former boyfriend] today to say he's coming here for a conference and wants to meet us for lunch."

"The evangelical fundamentalist one? Doesn't he already want us to go for coffee with him when we are in NZ?"


"I think I'm going to have to be unavailable."

"If you're 'unavailable' on both days, he'll think I made you up. Anyway, it'll be mind-numbingly boring without someone to roll my eyes at when he isn't looking."

"If you want to liven it up, you could try and convert him to atheism. Added bonus: he might change his mind about the second meeting."

"I don't want to get in a fight with him. That would be too stressful."

"So why don't you just hire a stunt double?"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Giving up sugar: two weeks on

In case anyone is interested, I thought I'd post about the effects I have noticed so far, two weeks after I gave up sugar.


In an attempt to stop eating 98 metric shitloads of sugar and sugar-infested cake and biscuits every day, I decided to give it up entirely for one month, and then gradually bring it back in small quantities. The rules are that I don't eat anything that exists primarily for the purpose of oozing happy gooey sweetness at me (e.g. desserts, chocolate, jams, cake, sticky drinks, honey), nor anything that according to the ingredients list is more than 7 or 8 % sugar. I'm not doing anything crazy like cutting out fruit or alcohol, though.

I have stuck to these rules almost 100%, with one relapse on New Year's Eve (when I was tempted beyond my limits with chocolate-dipped strawberries and marzipan).

What I've noticed:

  1. The first few days were easy. Probably because I started the day after the sugary sinfest that is Christmas. At that point I never wanted to see a dessert again, which might have had something to do with the origins of this experiment. About four days in I had a few cravings, but since then it hasn't really been a problem. It's been WAY easier to go cold-turkey on sugar like this than it ever has been when I've just tried to cut down on it a little in the past.
  2. I am hungry all the freaking time. Not hungry as in "I could do with a chocolate biscuit right now," or "Mmm.... doughnuts", but "My stomach is eating itself from the inside, I'm so hungry. Can I have a four course meal now, please?"
  3. I am eating all the freaking time. Presumably a consequence of the previous point. But it turns out that my personal "what I like to eat" list goes something like this: Sugar, fruit, vegetables, grains, fish, dairy products, chicken, savoury junk food. So take the sugar away, and suddenly I am eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fruit and veges without even trying. This means I've been snacking mostly on fruit, pieces of pumpernickel bread with herring, tuna on crackers, and yoghurt. And eating gigantic meals full of vegetables at least four times a day. All of this tastes much better (and the fruit much sweeter) than it usually does. This might just be because I am hungry, or it might be that I'm no longer tasting things through a filter of comparison with the chocolate bar or slice of cheesecake I just ate.
  4. And I am losing weight. This is actually a little disturbing, since it wasn't my intention, and I don't need to lose any (although for the time being it won't hurt, either). But I've lost at least two kilos* in the last two weeks, which made me suspect that despite eating 98 million times a day, I might not be eating enough (which would explain why I'm always hungry). So for the last few days I wrote down everything I ate and worked out the calories. It turns out I'm only eating around 7000 kilojoules (approx. 1700 calories).
  5. Have resolved to eat more cheese.
  6. I've spent the whole two weeks feeling mentally foggy, tired and irritable. To be fair, though, this could equally well be due to all the drinking I did over Christmas/New Year, the fact that I'm not eating enough in general, or it could be an attempt by my brain to get out of dissertation writing ("I'm not smart enough! Don't make me do this! Let's go back to bed, okay?")
  7. I'm getting educated about (and horrified by) the contents of the foods I usually buy at the supermarket. Even some of the yoghurts I (used to) buy are over 20% sugar! And as for muesli bars and breakfast cereals, I'm not sure I want to eat them again even after I stop this experiment, now that I've read the labels. Even bread, frozen meals, pre-made sauces and (weirdest of all) some types of potato-based crisps are way higher in sugar than I expected.
Anyway, my experience so far has been a lot less difficult than I expected, and has probably done me some good. I would certainly recommend the experiment to anyone who is looking to lose weight, since that seems to be happening without me even trying, and I am still eating what feels like mountains of food.


* For the metrically challenged among you, this is around 4 1/2 pounds. Or 8.934 imperial wombles.

Thinking outside the box

"Hey Geekman, my mother just sent a copy of the official invitation for her birthday party this weekend. They've decided to make it a 60s-theme. I don't think I have any 60s outfits, though. What are we going to wear?"

"I know."


"I'll go as Sputnik. Stick a couple of aerials on my head, curl up into a ball, and go beep."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Nothing to say

The last couple of days I've felt like I've had nothing to blog about. Sure, I could complain about the guy at the gym who not only used the squat cage for deadlifts (which he could have done pretty much anywhere else in the gym) but then left the bar loaded up with 100 kg even once he saw that I was going to use it next and would have to unload the whole thing myself. But that would be a boring story, so I won't tell it.

I could blog about the best novel ever in the whole entire world (and it's even available as a free e-book!). But I might read more of it and change my mind. I'm not absolutely certain yet that it has a plot. (It does, however, have a consortium of uploaded virtual lobsters that are desperate to defect from Microsoft. And that makes up for pretty much any possible disappointments to come.)

I could grump about how I'm having no luck at all finding a birthday present for my mother, since she has requested a hand-painted silk scarf and the only place I know that sells those within my price range is closed until February (plus she has very specific colour requirements ever since she 'had her colours done' a few years back and discovered that anything on her upper body ought to be or incorporate 'hot pink'). But whining about that would make me sound (and feel) ungenerous.

I could write about a couple of productivity tips that I forgot to include in my post a few days ago, like keeping a piece of paper next to you while working so you can jot down any sidetracks in your research that occur to you that you might want to investigate later (and also for those random burning questions that you feel you must ask Google but that will take you down the internet surfing procrastination pathway to doom.)

I could put in a plug for JabRef, which is an awesome (and free!) program I just discovered for managing BibTex files. My former method of editing the .bib files directly in Notepad was starting to wear thin. Now I just have to try and persuade our department IT mollusks to install Java for me (no admin rights for Styleygeek).

I could write about how Geekman might have could have maybe been bitten by a snake last night. Except that he wasn't.

I could recommend the Speculative Grammarian to any linguists among my readers: a hilarious online linguistics satire magazine, kindly brought to my notice by someone who probably doesn't want me to mention them. (So I won't.) But it has linguistics sudoku puzzles. With the IPA! A Proto-Indo-European crossword! And a pick-your-own adventure game that takes you through the non-existent wacky world of linguistics careers (I ended up as an alien language creator for FarStar GateSpace Atlantian-3 and having a threesome with Claudia Black and Ben Browder, in case you're wondering.)

Okay, so it looks as though my problem might actually be that I have too much to say. So I won't say it after all. Not right now.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A typo that made me laugh

I just caught this typo (bolded) when reading back through my chapter draft:

"The loss of distinct feminine and neuter word classes in this language is a more genderal factor that may have influenced the development of the new relative clause marking pattern."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More visitors

Rumours of the bountiful, ever-renewing pile of birdseed on our balcony are spreading far and wide. Unlike certain greedy rotters, today's visitor didn't eat any of the seed, though; he just spent a long time pacing back and forth, presumably inspecting for health and safety violations.


I just discovered some locally(ish)* grown, organic coffee** that tastes great, comes in six or seven different blends and roasts, both ground and as whole beans, and... wait for it... is no more expensive than the cheaper of the big brands I usually buy (Melitta, Robert Harris, Vittoria). This is so exciting!

I've always felt guilty about buying from big nasty exploitative coffee companies and about the long distances my coffee flies to get to me, but I also can't really afford to double or triple the amount I spend on coffee beans by buying fair trade brands. So it's great to find a compromise that I can afford. I might not be directly supporting poverty-stricken coffee growers in the third world, but at least I'm not contributing to their exploitation anymore either.


* i.e. grown less than 1000 km away, which is local by Australian standards. It's even within the state that my city would be in if the Powers Wot Be hadn't decided this town was important enough to be its own little state all by itself.

** Warning: clicking on that link will take you into website hell. They obviously don't make enough from their coffee sales to afford anyone other than a bunch of local ten-year-olds to do their html. Maybe if I buy enough of their coffee they'll be able to afford a webpage redesign.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Since everyone is doing it...

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

No wonder I'm always irritatingly cheerful.

I think the friends/family result is a little unfair, though. Sure, I only have a handful of friends and I have a distant relationship with my family, but that's the way I like it.

Also, I filled this out a few days ago when I first saw it at Lucy's, and I'm sure my result then was lower in most categories. The only things I think I answered differently this time around are the questions at the start about the number of grandparents still alive, and number of siblings. Last time I put down two grandparents, and this time I put three.* And last time under siblings I only counted the brother I grew up with, assuming it was childhood experiences that they cared about, but this time I included the half-siblings as well, since they make me happy too.

Updated to add: And I just redid the test and changed "Atheism" to "Christianity" for the religion question. Turns out you lose 0.3 points in the spirit category for being an atheist. Admittedly I ticked the "unconflicted about my faith" answer when I was testing the Christianity option, so maybe a conflicted Christian gets fewer points than an atheist. But all the same I think it's rude. If you don't think it is possible to be a happy, unconflicted, highly spiritual atheist, then you haven't seen Geekman talking about physics.


* I have six grandparents, and I didn't know if I should count from the top down, taking one off the maximum for each of the two that have died, or from the bottom up. It depends on whether they are assuming that dead grandparents make you unhappy or that living ones improve your life.

Continuing on from yesterday's post...

... here's one more trick that I just came across here and love the sound of, although I haven't tried it yet.

As a last resort, reboot your day. This is something I do not just with work, but any time a day is going so incredibly badly it just can’t be saved. Turn off the lights and take a quick nap. 20 minutes is best. When you get up, take a shower, make a small breakfast, and just go through your morning routine as if it were the first time. Try to forget anything prior even happened.

It's from a list of tips for computer programmers, but I reckon most of the tips on the list are applicable to other work as well. (But hey, dude, blue and red text on a black background? Not cool.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A 2006 productivity hot-or-not guide

In the true spirit of procrastination New Year's reflection, I've been thinking back over the various productivity and organisational strategies I experimented with in 2006. Some of them worked really well, some were a complete waste of time (which doesn't mean they won't work for you!) and some of them I never really stuck with long enough to find out. And just for you, my dearly beloved readers, (well, okay, actually mostly for me), I'm going to dredge the depths of my memory and make a little list.

Things that worked just great, thanks for asking:

Steve Pavlina's tricks for becoming an early riser. Thanks to these I got up at 7 am every day for around six months. Then I discovered a much easier solution (see the footnote).

Also from Steve Pavlina's site, the trick of convincing yourself you are only going to try something out for 30 days and then you can go back to your old ways. It's much easier to deprive yourself of a bad habit if you tell yourself it's just an experiment. And at the end of 30 days, it's usually pretty easy to just keep on going. This is how I stopped myself biting my nails. It's how I stopped myself surfing the internet at university (for three months). And it's how I'm currently giving up sugar.

Going cold turkey on bad habits. I have finally faced up to the fact that I have an addictive personality. "One more minute" or "just a little bit" are not phrases I can afford to keep in my vocabulary. The only way I gave up nail-biting was to not do it at all even a little bit (for a month). The only way I have managed to cut down on the number of desserts I eat is to cut out sugar completely. The only way I stopped wasting huge amounts of time surfing the net at university was to pull out the connecting cable, hide it on the top shelf of my bookcase, AND use the Invisibility Cloak and these tricks to make it extra hard to "just check the news".

The Printable CEO. It's great for getting me back on track when I fall face forward into the procrastination puddle and start to drown.

Timing myself work. I currently work in 30 minute blocks and reward myself at the end of each one. For me this really only works with a real flesh-and-blood timer. It's no good just using my watch or the computer clock. I have to see the numbers ticking down towards zero.

Doing whatever is most important (or least likely to get done) first thing in the morning. That way I start off the day feeling productive and don't have the task hanging over my head all day. During the first half of 2006 I used this trick successfully to spend an hour learning Greek or Egyptian vocab every morning. Currently I am using it to get a good chunk of thesis (re)writing out of the way before I start the day.

Things that didn't really work for me:

Getting Things Done. Like I said, I have an addictive personality. When I tried out GTD, I found I could waste entire hours and days on making and revising lists, reading GTD forums, and trying out productivity software.

Joe's Goals. I loved it for a while, and I still think that it's an awesome idea and that the software is very well designed. Unfortunately, on days and weeks when I know I am being unproductive and procrastinatory, I avoid the site entirely, so it ends up only being a record of when things go right.

Writing binges. Admittedly they get stuff written. And I don't know whether I would have made so much progress on the thesis without them or not, but they tend to cause me two major problems. The first is that I get so sick of writing that I follow the binge with a couple of weeks of total avoidance and procrastination. The second is that I start to confuse quantity for quality, and get deluded into thinking I am most of the way to having finished a chapter when really all I have is a whole bunch of crappy free-writing.

I'm still on the fence about:

The unschedule. I've only been using it for a few days, and I like the concept. I also like the way it makes me feel less guilty about days when I get very little done. But I'm not sure that it is really motivating me to be more productive or not. I plan to try it out for a little longer.

Contingency Management
. Every time I have used this, it has worked wonders. But the thing is, I have to be really desperate before I'm willing to delay checking my email or drinking my morning coffee or whatever I've made contingent on getting work done. So I've only used this strategy in last-minute-deadline situations when, to be honest, I probably would have done the work anyway out of sheer desperation. Maybe I need to give this strategy a trial in peacetime too.

What worked (or didn't work) for you in 2006?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

It's only the first day of 2007 and I already have a long catalogue of sins.

Father forgive me for I...

  • Forgot to take my camera to the fireworks last night, which were incidentally quite spectacular, and as usual probably averaged out to a cost of thousands of dollars per spectator. (Ninety-five percent of this city evacuates to Sydney on public holidays.)
  • Hosted a party for which I never got around to doing any shopping. (On the plus side, this means I made a net gain of two bottles of wine, a nice cheese, a whole pile of chocolate, eggs, a lettuce, grapes and some smoked salmon. And that's not counting everything I ate (but didn't provide) last night.)
  • Sent one of the guests out to the shops when I thought we were going to run out of drinks, giving them no money and crappy instructions that caused them to walk for half an hour in the wrong direction. Then never even got around to opening the wine they came back with.
  • Created the sort of party atmosphere in which people sat around reading dictionaries to each other. (Yes, really.)
  • Told my guests they could stay over but then didn't have enough blankets or pillows to go around. Discovered this after they had all drunk too much to go anywhere else.
  • Lay in bed this morning until I could hear that one of my guests had done all the cleaning up, and another had started cooking me breakfast.
  • Sent the same person out to the shop again to get extra eggs. And still didn't give him any money.
Plus, I just generally suck as company right now.

I have to finish revising my current chapter before the wind changes and I'm stuck in the role of the Evil Styleygeek forever.