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Lazy Sunday

Filed under: Belgium,Life — Thomas @ 11:05 pm

2009-8-30
11:05 pm

Woke up around 10.30 at my parent’s place in Gent, after a birthday. Went to Evergem to have a brunch with my godson and his parents. Drove to Beerse, in the Kempen, for the baby shower of Willeke’s fourth kid. Gorged myself on candy.

Drove back to Mariakerke for a tango evening at the enchanging Parkkaffee, a place where I used to play with the boy scouts as a kid. Our teachers were there too. Kids recognizing Kristien were all nice and polite and either asked for autographs or came to bring them pictures they made.

Then drove off to the coast to the seaside house my parents bought last year, which they’ve done up wonderfully, and now has a little garden area with a fishpond, and a bunch of sewage tubes where they grow their herbs, an idea I definitely must steal.

Belgium is so wonderfully tiny, you can get pretty much anywhere in under two hours!

Tomorrow I will work from the first time from this house by the sea, and it looks like everything is ready and working here to do so. Awesome!

Bonus: there’s a maintained pool here and because the weather’s been so good, they will keep it open next week for one more week than usual.

New Year’s Resolutions

Filed under: General,Hacking,Life — Thomas @ 12:26 pm

2009-8-16
12:26 pm

I used to make fun of people making new year’s resolutions. Why decide some loftly goals quickly on the last day of the year only to break them a month after ? How many people that quit smoking on New Year’s Day actually make it through a year ? Why put yourself through the ridicule of your friends like that ?

But last year on one of those rare weekend days I was taking stock of my life I did come up with some things that I wanted to get done or improve on. And as the end of the year was approaching, I was wondering how I could make these goals attainable. How could I make the ridiculous concept of New Year’s Resolutions work for me ?

I theorized that, for them to work, I needed:

  • goals that I actually want, that are missing from my life
  • some alignation with where I want my life to go
  • some concrete target for that goal
  • a way to check my progress against the goal
  • a commitment (to myself or others) that these goals are important and take precedence

For long-term life goals, I want to enjoy more culture, enjoy life, and be healthier.

Roughly, these were the resolutions I made:

  • standup comedy: I’ve always been interested in going to see it, and for some reason I never do. And when I see stuff on TV I keep thinking I should go. Culture and enjoying life.
  • dance more tango: a requirement before we go to Argentina IMO. Culture and enjoying life.
  • cook more: I very much enjoy cooking, and I’m not bad at it either, but I want to get better at it. Culture and enjoying life.
  • rerip and organise my music collection: since moving to Barcelona I have bought 400 CD’s that aren’t in any computer, and everything else is all over the place. Enjoying life.
  • learn catalan. Culture.
  • see more movies Culture.
  • sleep before midnight: I am a perpetual late sleeper, and I need to start changing my sleeping patterns. Health.
  • improve my GTD use: I’m getting good at it, but I’m sure I can make this work better for me. Health (mentally) and enjoying life.
  • sports – play basketball again. Health.

Why does it help to make these resolutions ? Because it turns into an easy list that helps you make decisions at those times where you need to decide something quickly or are making plans for the week.

Do you stay at home reading books or find someone to go to the movies with ? Movies is a goal, so go. Do I accept a job interview meeting on Tuesday at 15:00 or do I stick to the basketball planned ? If I’m behind on basketball, then the meeting needs to move. Shall I eat out tonight ? If I’m behind on cooking, then no. It’s actually liberating for an eternal undecider like me to just decide based on goals set earlier.

So, with that list in mind, I formulated some more concrete goals for some of them:

  • standup comedy: go see four shows this year. Let’s start gentle, you have to get tickets well in advance over here.
  • cook more: cook at least one meal a week. Ambitious, given my life, but worth trying.
  • rerip and organise my music collection: no concrete goal set, since this is a project that’s been on my mind for a long time, and code will need to be written.
  • tango: since dancing requires Kristien taking lessons, let’s start there. 2 courses of tango classes this year. Good goal since there are only three courses.
  • learn catalan: no concrete goal set. The voice in the back of my head suggested I spend at least an hour reading through language courses, but I didn’t actually set that as a goal. Probably shows a lack of real commitment to the goal!
  • see 40 movies
  • sleep before midnight: do so half of the working week days. Not that easy a goal at all, since my two flights a week usually have me land pretty close to that mark. To make it easier to track, and allow to make up in weekends, this comes down to 2.5 days in 52 weeks, or 130 days.
  • improve my GTD use: lower number of open tasks over time.
  • basketball: play 26 times in a year

An important part for me is to take stock once in a while. Where was I when July started, halfway through the year ?

  • standup comedy: 3 shows seen, 2 planned for July: 100% completed!
  • cook 52 meals: 18 times. I cheated by also counting the 6 meal course on New Year’s Eve (only as 1 though). so, 69% there, and I need to step it up to make it.
  • rerip and reorganise music: even though there is no concrete goal set, I’m well on my way. I have various projects going on, from writing a correct ripper (which Linux still lacks) to getting Lego Mindstorms sets to create a CD ripping robot to reviving the old DAD project into a new Django-based one to finally writing a decent mixer… Wondering if I should set as a goal something like ‘rip all newly bought CD’s to FLAC using a robot and importing and rating them in the new DAD’. I’d rate myself halfway there right now, but some stepping up is required.
  • learn catalan. As I said, no goal set. Practically speaking, didn’t do anything realistically useful. I need to either drop the goal or set a concrete task.
  • tango: one class taken, one class booked for september onwards. so, on track for 100%
  • see 40 movies: saw exactly 20 in the first half of the year! on track for 100%
  • sleep before midnight: as I feared, pretty pathetic. I don’t have a complete tracking, but looks like I managed 18 times out of 140. That’s like 36% by the end of the year if I keep this up! However, I seem to be cutting it close all the time: 20 times between midnight and 00:15, and 17 times between 00:15 and 00:30. I could have made the goal if I went half an hour to bed earlier, on average. Need more resolve!
  • improve GTD use: I was missing the tools to track this goal, so I wrote some. I need to fine-tune them a little, so I can better see how I’m doing each day. Sadly, for now, they seem to indicate my task list is growing. I need to better define the goal I’m working towards to – something like ‘over time reduce the number of U:3 to U:5 tasks in the queue’
  • basketball: we finally got together at work with a few people, and now rent a court weekly. I managed to get there 10 times, so 77% so far. I specifically set the bar low to only half of the weeks, knowing that I have all sorts of roadblocks for going to play: emergency meetings, not being in Barcelona, Spanish fickleness (like, the guy not showing up at all because it rained a little in the morning), and so on. Still, I should be able to make this goal by the end of the year, possibly by playing some more here in Belgium on the court in front of the apartment.

So, half-year status:

  • 1 goal already completed! (comedy)
  • 3 goals clearly on track for completion (tango and movies), a third not well defined but probably getting there (music)
  • 2 goals around 70% (cooking and basket), could still be made if I really step it up
  • flunking 2 goals clearly; learning catalan and sleeping before midnight. Need to seriously consider what to do about them.
  • 1 goal did not have the tools required to measure properly; now need to actually track the task again.

Conclusions:

  • the measurable goals seem to be easier to attain – setting a clear way to track progress clearly helps following through on your commitment.
  • it is important to track those measurable goals – I wouldn’t have guessed I made the movies one for example from memory. Also, writing them down makes it feel like an achievement.
  • the tasks that seem to be set more by my conscience than by my desires seem to languish (sleep and catalan). Clearly I need a better conscience or re-evaluate the tasks.
  • one task without concrete goals is getting done anyway, just because it’s been a long desire to get it done (music). Still, it would help me focus to set a concrete goal.
  • concrete objectives can be re-evaluated in light of the desired goal. For example, the original goal was to be healthier by doing more sports. I picked basketball because I always liked it – but if needed, I could redefine the goal in terms of another sport if that makes it more attainable – as long as I don’t cheat by making the goal easier.

So, next things to consider for me:

  • start thinking up new or extended resolutions for next year
  • decide what to do with Catalan – leaning towards forcing myself an hour a week for the next weeks
  • do end of September evalutation
  • cook more than once a week.
  • get to bed just a little bit earlier!

Anal-retentive – moi ?

But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What goals did you set this year ? How are you doing on them ? What helps you stick to them ?

PS: completing this blog post marks another U:4 task of my GTD list, yay for me!

Tuesday

Filed under: Spain — Thomas @ 11:07 am

2009-7-1
11:07 am

left work around 38 degrees C, got a haircut, went for some great tapas on my own reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter, went to a bar, met up with friends, an impromptu bbq plan was hatched, went to a lovely atico at Portal De L’Angel, barbecued in a soothing summer breeze, rode home on the back of a motorcycle hanging on for dear life. All in all a typical Barcelona summer Tuesday.

booq bags

Filed under: Life — Thomas @ 1:11 pm

2009-6-9
1:11 pm

At home, close to the toilet because I’ve needed it about 20 times over two hours yesterday evening, and a bunch more this morning. Sigh.

With such a low energy level I decided to go through some of my pending tasks, picking out low-hanging fruit. That’s one of the situations in which a GTD system pays off – those wasted days of low-energy where you basically want to execute simple mechanic tasks on some list without needing to do the thinking of which those tasks are in the first place.

One of those tasks is to replace my venerable booq backpack that I got right after moving to Barcelona more than 5 years ago. It has served me well, with a few minor problems along the way (the felt on the carrying handle tearing for example, now replaced with awesome-looking gaffa tape), and now recently the zipper started tearing, which could be fixable but would just take way too much time.

I’m sure there might be just as good or better bags from other brands, but in our 21st century ecosystem we vote with our cash, so I’m going to buy another booq backpack. (If you are looking for a new bag or backpack, I recommend you give them a look. I have no idea how many people ended up buying one over the years on my recommendations, I hope there are many.)

This time I went with the BOA 3M without the Vyper sleeve. The Vyper sleeve looks awesome and cool, but basically my laptop sleeve from the previous Booq backpack still works fine, and has a top pocket (in which I store 2 USB drives, a network card, some pens, earplugs, some spare batteries) and a back pocket in which I can slide documentation, so that sleeve on its own actually works really well as a light bag just for the laptop.

The sleeve might be a problem by the time I get my next laptop though, because I doubt there will be any more 14 inch 4:3 laptops around by that time. For now it will serve me just fine.

These backpacks don’t come cheap (I just paid 185 euros including shipping from Germany) but given the durability of my previous backpack, which I’ve basically used daily for 5.5 years, I have no doubt the pack will be worth the money.

My only real gripe with my previous backpack was the fact that I would get a sweaty back at the end of my 30 minute walk/metro ride to work. The BOA should be slightly better for that, though I guess all backpacks (except the ones with metal wire frames that lift the pack off your back) make you suffer from a sweaty back.

Looking forward to walking around with my new bag soon ! One task knocked off the list.

read order

Filed under: Belgium,General — Thomas @ 4:02 pm

2009-5-2
4:02 pm

A few weeks ago a few neurons tragically misfired, causing me to click a buy button on a 20 item shopping cart at Amazon.

Really, I just wanted to buy Overqualified, after reading how Joey sold out his first run already and realizing I did not want to wait for a second print. But somehow I thought I’d optimize my costs if I added some more stuff from my wishlist.

Anyway, the post office had trouble finding the books I had ordered. Probably because instead of a normal box, the books were packaged in this:
71068

Inside was the traditional Amazon box:
71071
Sadly, things that look like a bag are thrown around like a bag. The soft carton inside the bag was not strong enough to protect the books inside of being damaged.

If your spine reading is good, you can see what I ended up ordering:
71077

The problem is I already had stuff I still have to read; I have a special hole in my bookshelf just for that:
71074

Maybe it’s time for another week of stay-at-home-holiday…

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