Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Quarters - An Interesting Flow Trick

Here is a time management technique I've been using lately. Grab a timer and set it for 25 minutes. Write down something to do for that period of time. Activate the timer and focus on the task and nothing else. When the timer goes off, stop if you want to.

This is a lot like the Pomodoro Technique. However, the difference between Open Quarters and Pomodoros are that you have the option of continuing your line of thought instead of taking a break. This leads to less procrastination, less self-consciousness, and loss of a sense of time. In other words, it promotes flow.

Let's look at procrastination. If you don't obligate yourself to working for more than 25 minutes, then starting is easier. It's hard to start on something that takes hours to do. Committing to a shorter period is easier and less intimidating.

It also helps beat back self-consciousness. With permission to quit after 25 minutes, there's less reason to judge yourself. You only go beyond that interval because you want to, not because you have to. And if it doesn't become interesting, that's fine too. Don't force yourself.

Last to consider is time sense. The problem with the Pomodoro Technique is time is never far from your brain because a timer going off every 25 to 30 minutes reminding you of it. In an open quarter, the timer goes off once and then stays out of your way if you choose to go on. However, if you do choose to continue, you'll be surprised how much time flies as a result of a project becoming fun and interesting.

I hope the Open Quarter technique helps you focus on your own endeavors as it did in helping me write this blog entry. And without further ado, it's time for you to close the blogs, set the timer and agenda, and get back to work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Math, Amazon, and Android

Last week was a good one for math and dabbling. Here's a quick review of what happened.

Khan Academy Magellan Badge Victory
Acquiring the 80th star completed the Magellan badge mission. Calling it satisfying would be an understatement. With that, it is time to stop collecting stars and just maintain the ones I have. Regular visits to the site to refresh here and there is sufficient for that.

Deeper into Amazon AWS Territory
The Amazon AWS cloud has interested me since working with it for the Uncle Squirrely project. A recent conversation with a friend drew me into S3 storage and Elastic Cloud virtual servers. It was time to go a step beyond web apis.

S3 is a handy way to backup and share files. It gives you permission controls that let you render certain files publicly available or not. Drop Box uses S3 to provide regular end-users with a simple interface. It's great for online storage which can be pretty handy.

With the Elastic Cloud Computing platform, Amazon offers up an easy way to roll your own virtual Linux or Windows 2008 server. There were a few small snags during my setup and connect attempts to Linux instances. After a short learning curve, it really was simple to start, stop, and kill servers as well as ssh into them.

The pay-as-you-go setup is perfect for me. An afternoon of playing around with a server and then killing it at the end costs 50 cents. However, for 24 x 7 production servers in the cloud, it gets pricey. In such case, a service like Rackspace would likely make more sense.

Android Adventures
Getting started with mobile development with Google Android proved to be pretty painless. Good documentation and tutorials made it easy to setup Eclipse, the SDK, and an emulator. It's been predicted by a couple of tech pundits that mobile was going to be big in 2011. The downside for me is finidng the tie-in to my main project. The upside is there's probably no better platform to go to if I were to go back into Java game programming.

All said it was a good week for intensive math goal pushing as well as with cloud and mobile dabbling. The next week shifts attention back more towards taking care of Blender Python Tutorials. The site is doing fairly well but it would be way better. So off to that then.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Skill Testing, Blender, and Google

Let's just get straight into what's been happening over the past week or so.

Blender Pyramid Script Upgrade
The step pyramid from my github is now upgraded to work with Blender 2.56. The big challenge was adjusting to changes to a new and better way of organizing vertices passed in via Python data. Hopefully, these API improvements will stabilize to make script development easier for me down the road.

Staffing Agency Interview
Last week's job interview with a staffing firm proved interesting. For one, the interviewer is an active Twitter user. For another, it was followed by computer-based testing on J2EE. 

The test results were odd. Despite my Java database background, my JDBC score was 0%.  On the other hand, lack of Struts experience didn't prevent me from scoring 100% in that area.

The big takeaway is my J2EE skills are rusty. Dropping PHP in favor of JSP might impact hosting and CMS options. As for my projects, little would really need to change.

Google App Engine
A tutorial on the Google App Engine introduced me to new tricks for web application development. It's pretty sweet. Java code can be compiled to Javascript. There are hosting options on Google. The near automated log on mechanism is nice. It also turns out that Khan Academy likes to use it.

Khan Academy Badge Chasing
Speaking of which, the Khan Academy star count is 74 at the time of this blog entry. 80 stars gets me the Magellan sun badge. More brush up on trig, calculus, and word problems should take me over the top.

Why do this? First off, in computer graphics programming, math skills matter. But the big bet is that earning that badge will land a job like no vendor certification can. It seems just crazy enough to work.

Plans for the Week
The rest of this week will be a final push for the Magellan badge. Plenty of job hunting to do as well. There will also be some neat experiments in Python and Java too. Never a dull moment.