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Showing posts from January, 2021

Reconnecting with people

2021 started with a a good sense of connection for me, having spent time with friends and family in a simple celebration of the oncoming year. The transition from 2020 to 2021 and being able to look back at a good part of my recent history got me thinking about how life has been for me and the family for the past decade. There’ve been a lot of people that I’ve met and become friends with while there are those that I’ve left behind and lost touch with. There’s a saying about treating old friends different from new ones, which I do appreciate now that I’m a bit older. It also means that my relationships with people that I get to spend a good amount of time with take a different shape. This reflection has given me some time and space to think about what it means to reconnect with people. Friends are the family we choose ourselves. — Edna Buchman I have the privilege of having life-long friends that I don’t always stay in regular contact with. From my perspective, if I consider you a frien

The work notebook

In a previous post I wrote about how I structure my work log notebook . That's my daily driver and it helps me keep on track for the day. I use it to look back on things I've accomplished, tasks that have fallen through the cracks, and whether there are any themes that keep arising. There are other kinds of notebooks that I use for different purposes and here I describe how I use work notebooks or "workbooks". Project Workbooks I usually have at least one ongoing project at work at any given time, where there are well-defined goals and tasks. In my software engineering practice, it would include things like diagrams, formulae, calculations, various kinds of set notation, and all sorts of insights and notes. For projects that have enough complexity that it will span multiple days, I'd place those in the same notebook for short projects. If a project will take multiple months/years, then I'd have a dedicated workbook for that. It can sometimes get wasteful if I

Book reading: Sun Tsu's Art of War

When I became a technical lead I wanted to feed my brain with as many techniques and principles on how to be an effective leader. I read enough books on this that I think I'm comfortable writing a little bit about the books. What better way to start this than with a classic, which is a translated version of  The Art of War by Sun Tsu . Note though that I don't like writing spoilers for a book, so instead I'd write about what I remember and what came to me while reading, immediately after reading the book, and weeks/months later. Let's dive into the book and what it meant to me. Thinking like a leader The key takeaway for me reading the passages (which reads like a poem but is really a field manual of sorts) is that, as a leader, you should be the most aware of your surroundings and your role in the situation. Knowing when to act, how to act, what goal to pursue, what winning looks like, which enemy to engage -- almost all of this comes from situational awareness. The mo

Keeping a work log

I have been keeping a journal for my personal life with some regularity for the good part of 4 years. The difference between my earlier attempts at journaling before four years ago is the regularity and the structure. I started with a very structured and regimented journal (doing it everyday with prompts and blanks to fill), to a ruled journal notebook, then a plain notebook (no rules nor grids in the pages), and then settling on a dot-grid notebook. This allows me to doodle and write free-form to help me commit thoughts and observations of my day but it was mostly for archival and looking back to "feel good" or reminisce (also to sum up a month, a year, etc.) The approach helps a lot with self-improvement in terms of my mental health and my reflection to see where I was a specific amount of time ago and whenever I was reading it again. In a previous post I wrote about keeping a work log, and I realised I only mentioned that in passing. In this post I detail the structure of

Writing quick and actionable emails

One of the things I do a lot on a daily basis is write emails. I suspect it's the nature of the job that communication would be a primary function that I should be able to perform well. There's certainly an art to this form of writing which is very different from other kinds of messaging. If you've ever wondered why you'd want to learn to write emails well, consider the following computations: If you spend 2 minutes writing an email and you need to send 10 of them, that's already 20 minutes. This doesn't count the time reading the email, formulating a response, and figuring out what else you need to do after responding to the email. If you write 10 minutes crafting an email and send 10 of them then that's a 100 minutes (1 2/3 hours). This doesn't include editing the email, so it's a lower-bound. If you receive 100 emails and read each one for 2 minutes and reply to 10%, then you're spending 200 minutes on 100 emails reading and anywhere between 2

Six-hour workdays for focus and productivity

Sometime in 2018 I experimented with a strict 6-hour workday. I negotiated this with my manager who at the time said it was worth the experiment. The idea would be for me to be at the office by 10am and be out by 4pm. This didn't preclude me from continuing to work while I was in the train, or at home. It was an experiment where I can remember some good and bad parts and this is a post looking back at that time. Ruthless prioritisation The first thing I needed to do as an individual contributor was to ruthlessly prioritise all the tasks I have to accomplish. This meant I had to put a budget on the amount of time I'm spending doing certain things. Additionally this meant I needed to remove  all unnecessary meetings from my calendar. This was defined as whether it was something I was needed to make a decision on anything. Being an individual contributor at the time the answer it turns out for most meetings in my calendar was "no". Some examples of things I've stoppe

Picking up a hobby: Fishing

Fishing has been one of those quintessentially human activities that our ancestors have been doing since... well, for a long time. We all know that we need water to live but after discovering how good the creatures that come from the water taste when cooked (or raw) it turns out we figured out that it's worth trying to catch these creatures for sustenance. It's interesting to note though that it's called "fishing" not "catching" as someone said sometime ago because catching the fish is not guaranteed -- otherwise it'd be farming, harvesting, or akin to raising cattle. There's a number of surprising things that came to me once I started doing this activity and I thought I'd write out a few of those in case you were looking for one too. NOTE: Before going out on your first fishing trip, be sure to read local laws and regulations. In NSW where I'm at, you need a valid fishing license and must be familiar with the restrictions on where fishi

Mental health

2020 was a somber year for me and I'm sure it's the same for a lot of people. As if the global pandemic wasn't enough bringing in the isolation, restriction of travel, and a general sense of change to everyone's way of life -- it was made harder by wanting to keep a semblance of a regular life. I still worked, albeit from home, trying to maintain the same level of productivity as I did before all the change was imposed upon everyone. I still tried to keep up my hobbies like playing video games and supporting some streamers I follow -- what I lack in time to play it seems other people appreciate the financial support I can offer to do the gaming instead, so I and others can live vicariously through them. It wasn't easy and it didn't help that I seem to be really hard on myself. Personally, there were some daemons that I've had to tackle on my own and some that I've had to ask for others' help. It's been a struggle to keep an even keel while everyt

Encrypted messaging

One of the things I miss about social media (after not having been on Facebook for a good number of years now) is the convenient mechanism for communicating with friends, family, and acquaintances. The trade though isn't worth it for me -- my attention being used to fuel algorithms for targeting advertising with the side effect of amplifying messaging that I rather not have occupying my psyche. I haven't completely distanced myself from social media though -- I still use Twitter mostly to follow folks that challenge my perspective and augment my frame of mind. For a while I used Keybase but phones and a laptop later I've kept forgetting to actually use it for messaging. Unfortunately I've been locked out of my account and I'm waiting for a reset to happen. I used to have a WhatsApp account but I didn't find much traction with that in my family nor acquaintances. Not having Facebook (as I've deleted my account) made it extra hard to be involved in group messa

Help wanted: writing resources

I'm currently fleshing out a fantasy setting for a series of short stories rattling in my head that I'd like to get out into the world. However, it's the first time I'm even trying to do this, so I need your help: are there any good resources for world-building and writing guides that have been helpful in your projects? So far I've been really enamoured by Brandon Sanderson's world building and Patrick Rothfuss' storytelling. I suspect those two are at the pinnacle of the trade and I'm probably not going to do myself any favours by trying to live up to what they're doing, but I'd still like to give it the good college try. Are there any resources (forums, books, guides, blogs, or courses) that I should be taking if I want to do a decent first take at this? This is probably better as an email to friends and maybe some random folks (or maybe even a tweet) but why not a blog as well?

Its been a while

 It's 2021 and it's been a while since I wrote here. 2020 has been a challenging year for me and the family and if you're still subscribed and still reading, then thank you for sticking by me. We're doing well and we're doing the best we could given the situation in the world even today. I still believe that things will get better and while we're in the down part of the cycle of life, I'd like to think that the rise is coming soon. Of course nothing will ever really be the same though I'm holding out hope that it will only get better. The past year has given me an opportunity to think about the projects I've been holding off on and after much reflection and disconnecting with my most recent vacation, I've found that there's one project that I'm very excited to start working on and share with you: I'm going to be writing more. Not only writing on this blog, but I'm also dabbling on writing other things too. As soon as I have some o