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I finally got around to upgrading to Gallery 2 for my pictures. Took me too long, but the wait was worth it. I was even able to leverage a Debian backport to make it easy to maintain but still maintain our crazy ExecCGI environment where the code runs as my user (and more importantly, under my quota).

This is the first step in a few changes around here, but is a major step before I add some very key content…

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The New Old Season

I’m still mourning the end of Deadwood. While I like Timothy Olyphant (good-guy sheriff Seth Bullock), by the end of the show it was Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen (and his band of band-guys) that totally made the series. Strong characters all around, and a well-evolved plot. But alas, some things are not meant to last forever.

And the Tivo is barren. I mean absolutely nothing new (that we haven’t seen) is recorded. Day-to-day the most entertaining items are old Fraiser’s that I either haven’t seen or at some point forgot. Hell, the other day I was excited when they finished up the last season of Friends and started from the beginning again. THERE’S NOTHING ON. (Except new Venture Brothers, which is of course fantastic, but not enough to keep the voices in my head quite for most of the week).

So I’ve started digging into the back catalog on Netflix/Torrent, and found that I easily get sucked into well-written, well-acted short run series:

  • Rome – Good writing and acting, but too compressed into one season. I’m sure the production costs were too high to continue indefinitely, but I’m sure they could have come up with some more source material from one of the longest ruling empires in history. But alas, I think one season is all we get.
  • The Wire – I’ve been moving through this series slowly, and I think its better than The Sopranos. Superbly written and acted, its great at showing two angles, and each season brings a new big case while still maintaining contact with the old. Slow for release and I don’t see a lot of talk about it, so I’m not sure how long its legs are, but its good while it lasts.
  • Entourage – I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but HBO’s barrel is head-and-shoulders above anything else, and when watched back-to-back these really aren’t that bad. My sister-in-common-law recommended them as “brainless little 30 minute brain candies” and she’s right. Anything to avoid another reality show on broadcast.

There are possibly a couple of new shows that might bring hope to the new season (Studio 60 for one, but even after seeing the pilot I’m not completely sold). Most of all I’m looking forward to the return of my hard-core favorites: Lost, Big Love, and of course, Battlestar Galactica.

(Parental warning: TV will rot your brain and should only be taken in small doses after you’ve put in a 16 hour day and no longer have the capacity to think creatively in any way, shape, or form…its like the Tantalus device on Star Trek)

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Back at School

(Two posts in one day! I’m feeling somewhat motivated/inspired by the promise of a long weekend)

In the midst of doing something like 37 hours of presentations for our worldwide sales team this week at work (OK, it was only 8, but that’s still a long time to talk), I also began my second year at UC Berkeley’s Evening MBA program. Getting back on campus I was pleasantly surprised by three things:

  • I’m very excited to be back in an environment where I’m constantly learning/doing something new.
  • I was very excited to see all the people I had made friends with last year, as well as my battlefield brethren that I slogged through Finland and Russia with.
  • I felt predictably superior to the first year students that had already been slogging away for almost a month of classes before we started our electives.

I hear that the second and third year are a lot less stressful, with classes being stretched out over 15 weeks instead of the insane 2-classes-for-9-weeks-twice-a-semester first year, and the material is looking very interesting so I’m in a very good mood right now:

Business Law is a review course meant to orient managers to “dealing with legal issues and productive use of their lawyers”. This is being taught by a Deputy Attorney General for the State of California and for the first class he basically gave us umpteen examples of his disdain for the legal profession. I asked, “so what are lawyer’s good for?” and his response was simply, “by the end of this class you’ll really be asking that question.” This is gonna be fun.

Services Strategy is a case-oriented and guest-lecture heavy introduction to the challenges involved in operating a business where the primary capital is people and not boxed product. This is a bit of an off-beat course but based on the previous reviews (and the fact that there are 20+ people on the wait list) I have high hopes. The material here I think is very key for me as I haven’t been involved in true services businesses in the past, and moving forward I know that these will make up a bigger and bigger portion of the economic output of the US.

With the summer work I did this year, and by taking some one-unit seminars here and there, I’m actually on track to graduate a year early (end of ’07) or perhaps spread out my last couple of semesters to one class at a time. Right now we have not particular leaning, but one thing I will say is that if we decide to stay in Berkeley through the end of 2008 then being a student has a lot of nice benefits such as gym membership and campus parking privileges.

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DONE!

Phew, I survived! Last night we took our “final final” at Haas (Macroeconomics, great class). This means that life may soon return to some form of normalcy.

Although, I really don’t have much of an idea of what normalcy is anymore, since this will be the first time in a year and a half when either I’m not in school or Alexis isn’t off galavanting through some desert! And actually this is the last week of her doing excavation in blazing hot sun as she was offered a full-time position with one of the top archaeology firms in the Bay Area doing lab analysis and reports (a huge step for her which she’s really excited about).

So next week all we gotta do is go to work, come home, and enjoy life. Should be an interesting adjustment.

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Discrete Actions

(This isn’t going to turn into another “43 Folders” site, I promise, but I had typed this up and didn’t want to just delete it)

After three months of “Getting Things Done” I was ready for a minor re-assessment of my system and slight debugging. I found a great set of core articles that gave me a few things to think about.

One of the biggest problems I was having was “stale” actions that I just wasn’t making any progress on. I think this is because there were a lot of projects hiding out as actions. Things like “Draft Ethics Paper”. I kept skipping it over because it seemed like too Herculean of a task. So I’ve created some new action review rules for myself:

  • Confirm they are all physical actions (being each with a verb…not “think”)
  • Scan for actions that may be projects (take > 30 minutes)
  • If needed, break actions into segments
  • Make sure each action has a quantifiable goal
  • Make sure there is nothing blocking each action

This helps turn the above sisyphean “Draft Paper” action into something like:

  • Offline: Select Ethics paper topics
  • Study: Outline Ethics topic #1
  • Study: Outline Ethics topic #2
  • Study: Draft Ethics topic #1
  • Study: Draft Ethics topic #2
  • Result: Ethics Paper 1 – Individual Ethics

Much better for my limited chunks of mental time I get throughout the day. Now I need to refine the way I’m managing very large projects that have a lot of interaction with other people.

Thanks for listening to me geek out about this.

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Getting Things Done

A few weeks ago I sort of reached the breaking point. Between work and school and the general insanity of life, my brain pretty much started to melt down trying to keep track of everything that was going on. I needed to take some action to get myself organized.

My good friend Mark (whom I’ve learned to trust recommendations from for pretty much everything besides movies) long ago recommended the organizational process of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. From what I’d heard about it from him and numerous other geek friends, I knew that the ideas were close enough to how I was already organizing my life that it wouldn’t be a major shift, but I had just never put aside the time to actually read the book and implement the process. So finally on a Friday morning I took it with me to the gym, started reading on the exercycle, and by the time I had gotten home from work on the BART that evening I had plowed through almost the entire thing.

The ideas really resonated with me, and I could see that this was no magical track, just some straightforward ideas to tie up all the loose ends running through my head. I know this sounds really ridiculous, but I was so excited that night I couldn’t help mentioning it to some friends we went to dinner with. They of course couldn’t resist making fun of my geekness (but see below for more…) That weekend I dragged Alexis around during some of our errand time and I bought a few minor supplies for the office (nothing extravagant; one of the things I really like about this whole thing), and I sat down on Sunday to watch a couple of brain-dead movies I had queued up and try to harness the insanity in my life.

Here are some of the main points of the system that really make sense to me, and why its better than what I was doing before:

  • Get everything out of your head – If you’re juggling tons of different projects there’s usually a jumble of different tasks competing for attention in your head. GTD is really nothing more than a “system” that allows you to get all of these different tidbits out of your head, and into a storage mechanism that you trust implicitly. Once you get all of these pointless little details out of your head, you can free up brain cycles to concentrate on actual important work, that requires thinking. “Clearing the decks” as it were has really worked for me, especially as I’ve started to believe much more strongly that the human brain is good at multi-tasking for some things, but only uni-tasking for others (like creative production).
  • Forget “To Dos”, define “Actions” – How many of us have long Todo lists that by the time we get around to looking at them we just don’t have the energy to take on any of the nebulous tasks. GTD stresses that you need to list “actions”, the actual next physical step that you need to take to move something forward. By listing “actions” on what used to be your Todo list, its very easy to move things forward, even when your brain isn’t feeling motivated to “define” the next thing…instead you just do it. (sic).
  • Contexts – This is one of my favorite parts. I used to organize my lists by macro categories such as “Work”, “School”, and “Life”, and then I would pick and chose what was next based on the mood I was in. GTD suggests that you organize your “actions” by “contexts”, where you are and what resources you have. A great example is my “Home” context, which lists all of the things I’ll do when I’m next physically at my house (which is sometimes far away). Why worry about things to work on at home when you’re not there and can’t do them?!? My other contexts include things like “online” and “offline” (with my computer), “calls” (which I can do anywhere with a phone), and “errands” (which usually get taken care of in bulk on weekend days at home).

Mark gave me another excellent piece of advice, “don’t try to tweak the system and don’t invest in any fancy tools right off. Make it extremely simple and adapt it over time. Let me repeat this for all of my hacker friends out there, keep the system as simple as possible to start off with, don’t invest in a whole new slew of complex gadgets or software. This way you’ll truly find what works and what doesn’t, and you can adopt/adapt as you see a need going forward.

So how is it working? Well, I honestly think it has changed my life. Where I used to be constantly stressed out and operating in a always-frantic-no-net fashion, I very much feel like having things under control. I know what I’m doing, I know what I need to do, and almost most useful, I know what I’m not doing. I’m less frazzled, both outwardly and very much more inwardly, and my focus time/ability has greatly increased.

I may or may not blog about different things I’ve done with the system lately, but for now I’m going to focus on finishing up a number of open loops I have in my life, and trying (for once) to get ahead of the wave.

Oh, and those friends who were making fun of me before I started the whole routine…I loaned the book to one of them a couple of weeks ago and then last weekend I got a giant “THANK YOU” for the impact it had made (she even joked that she had put it on her action list).

I’ve added a longer explanation of my system here

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What is this, 1996?

I’ve been thinking for a while my home DSL speed is slow (I believe I’m pretty far from the CO), but CNet’s not-too-scientific bandwidth meter showed me just how bad it is. I’m at 381Kbps (where I’m supposed to be getting 1.5Mbps).

All this wonders if maybe I should just go completely wireless.

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Things have been insane lately, and I’ve been quoting a classmate of mine going through the same work/school insanity who said “it can’t get any worse than it is right now.” Why oh why do I bother tempting fate like this:

The under construction house next to ours caught on fire last Wednesday night/Thursday morning. I was fast asleep due to a late night but Alexis heard a loud crash at 3am and yelled “FIRE!” This woke me up but I was totally disoriented, didn’t know if it was inside or outside the house. We called 911, and the owner who lives across the street. We ran outside and saw that there were flames pouring out of the windows on the side next to our house, and starting to burn the tree and fence between the houses (this was literally 10 feet from our bedroom window). We manned spray hoses from both ends and tried to keep things from advancing, but when the fire department got there about 10 minutes later it was clear that the other house was a goner.

The scary part is that if we hadn’t been home I think this could have been a lot worse. No-one else on the block came out of their houses until they heard the fire trucks there, and things were already moving pretty fast when we placed that call. As someone whose away from home pretty often, my worst nightmare from before was coming home to a house that fell down, this came scarily close to coming true. I still don’t think I’ve fully processed this information, but its been a little stressful.

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This Craigslist posting got sent to our (usually not) funny list at work. It was worth passing on.

(and it was also letting people know I’m alive, just insanely buried under a pile of work and school)

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I just picked up on his stuff a few days ago, but little did I know that he’d only been blogging for a few days even before that. Apple maven, Venture Capitalist (funded two friend’s companies), and someone who seems like an all around wicked smart, wicked wise, and wicked nice guy. Every single thing he’s written this year is worth reading: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/

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