Week in Review, 2016-W05.

(February 1, 2016 — February 7, 2016)

Writing on the blog beyond the weekly review is a goal of mine, but for now I’m going to remain focused on getting the weekly review up. We’ll see what happens next.

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Teaching: Class still going fairly well, but I am behind on both grading and preparation of typed course notes. I will push to get caught up on the typed notes next week, but the grading may have to wait a bit longer.
  • Graduating that Ph.D. student: Started a big push on this dissertation; will get through it somehow.
  • Administrative Reporting: Finished and submitted the first of three funding-agency reports last week. Next up is probably my institutional annual report, before I get back to the other two funding-agency reports. (The first funding-agency report was overdue and was about to make trouble. The other two are “due” but don’t become overdue until the end of April.)
  • Research Funding: Didn’t get that white paper drafted, but will do so next week. The long-awaited research solicitation dropped and it was … different than expected.
  • Publication Pipeline: Still thoroughly disorganized.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Spent the night at the Science Museum of Western Virginia on Friday night with C, an annual Cub Scout event.1 It was a lot of fun, although I’m not sure that he learned as much as he did last year (2015) because the program was organized differently. However, the museum’s current temporary exhibit is a giant room full of old arcade games (with some educational material about the history of the video game and the operation of the games) which my son adored. He is constantly asking me questions about old video games, and this was his first hands-on opportunity with the arcade games of my youth. We’re members of the museum, and we’ll be back before this exhibit closes, with other siblings in tow.

Home Improvement

  • Built the main panel for the headboard. It came out okay, I think, but the boards were not very flat or straight. Trying to decide if I need to make any adjustments before moving on to the next step.
  • Assembled my beer tote. Used nails that were too long, because they were already in the nailer and I didn’t think much about it, and now there are some minor oopsies that need to be dealt with before sanding and finishing.2

Health and Fitness

  • Ran three times, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Still struggling with routine a bit, but finding some new things that may work. Decided that I should work on pace, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks, until I get back outside and can start building my distance back up.
  • Weight: 189.0.

  1. Not sure how much I want to say about this on the blog, but Cub Scouts is emblematic of a type of organization that fascinates me. The Boy Scouts of America holds some organizational values that are, shall we say, more conservative than mine, but they also offer a lot of excellent, structured activities for boys with an emphasis on outdoor activities. So, we choose to participate, at least as long as the boys are interested.3 

  2. Why is this home improvement? I don’t know. But I put it on the list last week, so now it counts. 

  3. My daughter is in Girl Scouts, and the Boy Scouts could learn a lot from that organization. 

Week in Review, 2016-W04.

(January 25, 2016 — January 31, 2016)

My friend John has started posting weekly updates. He claims that he stole the idea from me, but I’m going to steal some ideas right back. First of all, he actually had the sense to post some goals for the year, which he is using to organize his weekly posts. I certainly intended to do something similar—that should have been the tie-in with the so-called “now page” movement. But I still haven’t done it, and right now I feel a bit too scattered to do it properly.

One of the things that I don’t like about how this page is developing, though, is the “Professional” section. Much of what is interesting about my job is either esoteric or confidential, at some level, and so doesn’t make for great update fodder. But if I told you some goals and then told you, in the weekly update, about my progress toward them, then that might give the section some direction.

This year, our university is switching to evaluating faculty on a calendar-year, rather than an academic-year, basis. I’m not sure that this makes any sense, given that faculty are hired on an academic-year basis, but it is happening, for esoteric reasons.1 As a result, I will be preparing my annual report, including some goals for 2016, in the next two months. I won’t print those goals verbatim here, but once I’ve prepared them I will summarize them (or a subset of them) here and track them.

In the meantime, a few shorter-term professional goals, which I will track over the next few weeks:

  • Teach my class well, including the preparation of course notes, which I will publish online at the end of the semester.
  • Graduate a Ph.D. student who is nearing completion. This task currently entails editing his Ph.D. dissertation which is, as always, more work than it should be.
  • Submit three administrative reports currently owed to my primary funding agency and submit my aforementioned faculty activity report.
  • Submit a white paper to a potential corporate sponsor, a task which landed on my plate today, after a phone conversation that I expected to be a waste of time turned out to be exciting and promising. And prepare a proposal for a new solicitation that should be issued soon.2
  • Keep my publication pipeline moving, a goal that shall remain vague until I take the time to catalog various in-progress work.

So, starting next week, I’ll track those things. One thing that I won’t be copying is John’s assignment of grades, because that would likely be pretty depressing.3

The other thing that I will copy, though, is better tracking of home improvement projects. I’ve mentioned a few of them here earlier, but then I haven’t mentioned them again because I have made literally no progress on them. So, I’ll give them their own category; a little more accountability will do me good. I still don’t have any grand annual visions here, but here are a few projects that I hope to address in the next couple of months:

  • Build a headboard.
  • Build some additional shelving in the kitchen.
  • Get the basement shower fixed.
  • Get a broken lockset fixed.
  • Build a beer tote.

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Nothing exciting to report. Next week I’ll start tracking those aforementioned goals.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Becky was gone for nearly the entire week, returning late Saturday night. While we missed her terribly, solo parenting went more smoothly than I had any right to expect. The kids were fantastic, and I enjoyed getting to spend more time with them. And only one snow day this week (Monday).
  • In slightly related news, we got the kids a Wii U, although I didn’t unveil it until late in the third day of solo parenting. It was, of course, a big hit.

Home Improvement

  • Nothing of substance to report.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice, on Tuesday and Friday. Struggling to find a new routine. Tired of running at 5:00a, but can’t figure out another regular time to run.
  • Weight: 191.2. Setback at the end of the week, after some progress earlier.

  1. The short reason is that the change is to better align with the issuance of raises, which are tied to the state budget cycle. But my experience is that the state legislature changes the timing of these raises, which are few and far between, nearly every time one is issued.5 

  2. I can’t do much concrete with this until the solicitation drops, but that’s expected soon, with a due date that will follow about 90 days later. So it seems worth tracking. 

  3. So far, John has given himself a GPA of 1.31. He’s a hard grader, but I’d probably be even harder on myself. And I’m a college professor, so I can’t live like that. 

  4. There’s a great RSS feed from this website that tells you, each week, which iTunes movies are on sale to be rented for 99 cents. I subscribed to it ages ago, but I almost never actually rent anything. But this week, The End of the Tour came up, and I decided to rent it. On Friday, watching the movie, which is about a three-day interview of David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky for Rolling Stone, an interview which occurred at the end of Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest, reminded me that I wanted to re-read Infinite Jest. My first, most sensible, thought was to plan to re-read it this summer. But on Saturday, partly while thinking about a summer re-read, I stumbled upon the Infinite Winter project, which was starting the very next day. And I found it impossible to resist the lure of this terrible idea. 

  5. I’m not complaining, in large part because my institution has found ways to execute some raises in addition to those passed down by our benefactors in the legislature, who fund an ever-decreasing portion of our budget. 

Week in Review, 2016-W03.

(January 18, 2016 — January 24, 2016)

Travel

  • Blacksburg.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Started a new semester on Tuesday. Teaching a graduate course on information theory. I’ve taught this course three times before, but I’m preparing typed lecture notes this time, which increases the preparation time considerably. Plus, there is always a lot of startup time associated with a new semester.
  • Reviewing graduate applications and talking to graduate student applicants, as you do.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Becky has left for the one-week in-person component of the graduate courses that she is taking this quarter.
  • She reached her destination, despite the huge Mid-Atlantic snowstorm, through some considerable effort. She was supposed to leave on Saturday. We moved her flights to Friday morning, to try to beat the storm, but then the airline canceled those and moved her back to Saturday. So she drove to Charlotte on Thursday night to get to the American hub, get South of the worst of storm, and to do her road travel before the storm. Spent two nights in Charlotte, but yesterday successfully reached her destination. (Since all flights out of ROA canceled yesterday, I’m calling this a solid win.)
  • That means that I’m solo parenting this upcoming week (on day 3 already). So far, so good. My biggest worry, now, is how many days the kids will go to school next week. I have contingency plans for every individual day. But more than two days off this week will destroy whatever productivity I might have managed.
  • I watched more things than usual this week (the movie and two episodes of a new show) because I decided that solo parenting deserved an evening reward. Not sure I’m going to be able to sustain that through the work week, though.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice, on Tuesday and Friday. Planned to run again on Sunday, but shoveled snow on Saturday and Sunday, instead.
  • Weight: 189.0. Good progress from last week.

One Weird Trick

When I’m firing on all cylinders, I review my entire GTD-style task list first thing in the morning. Contrary to canonical GTD recommendations, though, I select a subset of those tasks for the day.1 At the moment, the list lives in OmniFocus, and I mark the tasks for the day with flags.

I’m constitutionally incapable of selecting a reasonable set of tasks, though, usually selecting about twice what I can reasonably accomplish in a day. I could be more disciplined about this, but then I find that my task list is driven completely by urgency. Similarly, if I allow tasks to find their natural order, then “quick wins” and urgent tasks crowd out the “important but not urgent” tasks.2

So, when I have a block of time to work and too many things to do, which is often, I find myself using this one weird trick: I use a random number generator to pick an item off my list for the day, and then I work on the chosen task. Sometimes, I work the task to completion. Sometimes, I work on it for a set amount of time. Occasionally, I decide to unflag the task for the day or delete it altogether and move on.3

Almost without fail, working this way leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and real velocity.


  1. I just can’t hold my list in my head well enough to make good choices in the moment without doing some preselection. It isn’t canonical GTD, but it works for me. 

  2. The four-quadrant importance/urgency matrix, which I learned from Steven Covey books, has stuck with me as a useful way to think about things.4 

  3. I have a custom PCalc function that uses the built-in random number generator to generate a random integer between 1 and N. There was a time, before PCalc had a built-in random number generator, when I used the OS X calculator app to select tasks, like an animal. 

  4. The internet attributes this to President Dwight Eisenhower. But the sourcing seems a bit dubious. I am unsurprised that it predates Covey, however. 

Week in Review, 2016-W02.

(January 11, 2016 — January 17, 2016)

Travel

  • Blacksburg.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Only in the office three days this week due to travel. And it felt like less because of general brain paralysis on Wednesday and an all-day meeting on Friday.
  • Inbox zero. Finally cleared the email backlog from last semester.
  • Reviewing graduate applications, as you do.
  • Had our semi-annual research group faculty meeting.

Reading and Watching

  • Instapaper zero. I added too much to Instapaper last year to try to read it all at the end of the year (plus the first half of my December was busier than usual). Need to do a better job of reading stuff that I throw there as the year goes along. Anyway, several articles from this week’s reading to share.
  • I am extremely suspicious of any news that casts dispersions on youth. I work with college students and, frankly: The kids these days are alright. So, call it confirmation bias, but I really appreciated this story: The Myth of the Fragile College Student.
  • This is now wildly unseasonal, but I found it just hauntingly beautiful. It’s a story about a man’s obsession with his Christmas village. Find the thing you love; do that thing. Playing God.
  • This more-or-less went viral already, but it is so powerful. It’s easy to convince yourself that people never change. But they can and sometimes do. And it’s almost always through engagement with “the other.” Unfollow: How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs.
  • Started reading Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass. This wasn’t even on my list, but it was on my wife’s desk, and it piqued my interest.
  • I had planned to start Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. But the Kindle edition was more expensive than the paperback, and I have a firm policy against that sort of thing. The paperback will arrive tomorrow.
  • Still watching Madam Secretary Season 1 on Netflix. (I don’t watch much TV. So this line of my Week in Review may be even more boring than my weight. Sue me.)

Family and Friends

  • Took (two of our three) adopted college students from church (plus one boyfriend) out to lunch. Always fun, but especially nice this time, as one of our students was away last semester.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice. Once on Monday and once on Saturday. Need a plan or a goal, because I’m not very motivated right now.
  • Weight: 191.0

Week in Review, 2016-W01.

(January 4, 2016 — January 10, 2016)

Travel

  • Las Vegas is so strange. It is unique (at least among cities that I have visited), and yet completely generic, without place. I kindof loathe it, but I’m having a nice trip.
  • Upcoming: Blacksburg.

Professional

  • Close colleague in town from Monday through Thursday. Lots of good discussion, but it disrupted my week more than expected.
  • Presented three papers at a conference this weekend (including one on Monday, Jan 11). Preparing the presentations was more work than I expected.
  • More editing/reviewing and other service work than usual.
  • Working through my email hangover from last semester. Almost there.

Reading and Watching

  • Instapaper is down to about 20 articles. Almost there.
  • Still watching Madam Secretary Season 1 on Netflix. Entertaining.
  • My one Vegas indulgence is Cirque du Soleil. Watched O on Sunday night. It was fantastic. If you are in Vegas, do not miss.

Family and Friends

  • Kids back at school.

Health and Fitness

  • Ran about three miles on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday. It was a little cold. Lots to see. It’s a little inconvenient to have to use all the pedestrian bridges, but it’s something different (stairs!) and at least you don’t have to wait for lights.
  • Weight: 190.8.

Other

  • Didn’t mention it last week, but I got a Synology for Christmas. I’ve already set it up for Time Machine for our laptops, and I’ve been migrating my photo archives over. And more planned.