Observations on Writing

After all these years I’m finally learning how to write. Or maybe it’s just that I finally have something to write about. I’ve never been afraid of writing per se but I have suffered from my share of writers block when faced with a blank page and a deadline.

As far as my personal writing projects go, I’ve often written about writing, probably because that was what I was thinking about when I sat down to write. There is a kind of transparency that one strives for when writing. You want what you are thinking to flow from your mind to the page without being conscious of how it got there. I am a touch typist so the words flow quite freely from my mind to the computer. Also, when I am writing on a computer I am less likely to try to censor the stream of thought before I get it “on paper”.

When writing with a pen, I tend to think more but I am hesitant to just get something down because rewriting is such a pain. I was one of those people that tried desperately to make my first draft do double duty as my final draft when I wrote papers in high school. I never had to write papers in college. That was probably a good thing from the standpoint of keeping my grade point average up but a bad thing from the standpoint of getting practice writing.

I finally understand what makes a good sentence, not that I pay enough attention to that while I’m writing. I should probably read Strunk and White again to reinforce the criteria for good writing. I understand how to divide your piece into paragraphs. I’m told that my writing is quite readable. I guess practice is still the prescription for improving. As I said in a prior post, that’s a major reason that I keep this blog.

Firefox 2.0! Hooray!

I’ve downloaded and installed Firefox 2.0 on my iMac at home and my Windows XP laptop at work. I have to say, I’m impressed. At first when Firefox told me that Tab Mix Plus wasn’t compatible with 2.0, I was upset. They are promising a 2.0 compatible version real soon now.

Then I discovered that most of its functionality had been incorporated into the core implementation. The only feature that I miss is the ability to click on a tab and duplicate it. When I looked in the add-on directory, I discovered an extension called Duplicate Tab that does what I want. I downloaded and installed it and when I told the installer to restart Firefox I was pleased and surprised when Firefox came up with the same tabs loaded. Nice feature.

I don’t know if its just me but the rendering of photographs, in particular scaled jpegs, seems crisper. I haven’t delved into the release notes to verify that though. It may just be the shiny new default buttons and the crisp new tab implementation make me think that the page itself is crisper. In any case, I like it a lot.

Eating the Dog Food

I’m sitting here working on a presentation on AspectJ and listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles. I’m trying to convert a completely awful presentation (almost all bullet slides, way too many words, no pictures) into an engaging presentation to give via Webex. It all started when I followed a link to Kathy Sierra’s essay Stop your presentation before it kills again! I gave the awful presentation to a lunch time get together with some of my colleagues last week. They kindly overlooked the deficiencies of my slides and one of them looked me up afterwards to ask me to present to a more formal technical exchange that he regularly attends. This got me motivated to rework my slides.

I’m also using Dave Winer‘s OPML Editor to organize my thoughts before I attempt to translate them into something visually appealing. The hardest part of preparing a talk like this is narrowing the topic to fit in the time allotted. The second hardest thing is structuring it so that it can become a dialog instead of a lecture. The main reason I’m creating a Powerpoint presentation is that I am giving the presentation remotely and I want to have something to talk to.

This brings me to the title of this post. I believe in the things that Kathy says about not using Powerpoint slides. I am, however, intimidated by the fact that I am presenting to people “above” me in the hierarchy that expect slides. I feel a need to meet their expectations. I hope that I can come up with something that both meets those expectations and at the same time is visually exciting. I’m not holding my breath.

Posting for posting’s sake

Here I am, avoiding work because it is so depressing. Waiting for my copy of Getting Things Done to come in so that I can make an informed attempt at getting organized. My car is officially on its Very Last Legs so I am desparately looking for another one (in better shape than this one) that I can afford. I hate buying cars, shopping for clothes, and waiting on anything.

I usually do a pretty good job of finding something constructive to do. Is blogging constructive? In the sense that it is practice writing, I guess it is. It all depends on what (and whose) goals you’re trying to achieve.

There is so much that I want to do, it’s ironic that I’m sitting here at work unable to do most of it. I suppose I can call writing this blog “taking a short break”. It certainly helps improve my mood right now.

The Muse strikes …

I got back on the photography kick this weekend. I took a number of pictures, mostly of my in-laws new house. I have been accumulating quite a collection of contacts on Flickr. Many of them are extremely talented artists. They inspired me to actively pursue photography as art again.

While I was in the bookstore the other day I discovered that Tom Ang’s book Digital Photographer’s Handbook was out in trade paperback for a good bit less than the hard cover edition. It covers the spectrum from a brief explanation of how digital imaging technology works, through a catalog of the different photographic genres, a section describing common photographic challenges and tips for how to use image manipulation software to overcome them, and an extensive section on output options.

I joined a Flickr group called Utata. They publish a web zine that links to their images and discussions on Flickr as well as hosting original content. According to the about page,

Utata is a collective of photographers, writers, and like-minded people who share a compelling interest in the arts. We began (and continue to exist) as a salon-style gathering of photographers who came together on flickr. As a group we are continuously evolving; Utata is more of a process than a final product.

I hope this group helps me get into the swing of things.

Getting Things Done

I’m listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles for July 30, 2006. He’s talking about Getting Things Done today. He is giving the hipster PDA a chance to organize his GTD implementation (check out pocketmod for some cool blank form magic). I resonate with many of his comments about GTD. I have to get a copy of the book and read it. I have looked at the tools and I agree that you should start with the simplest thing that could possibly work (with a tip of the hat to the XP folks).

I am getting to the point that I have too many things that I want to do that I’m not getting done. Life is too short. I owe it to myself to be more organized. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are stagnating (and stupid).

I think I’m making progress on the psychological front with the realizations that I have had about anxiety being orthogonal to happiness. You can be both anxious and happy at the same time. Sometimes you can’t eliminate anxiety but you can manage it.

Enough rambling for today. I think I’ll work on making each day a little bit better than the previous day. I’ll try to record at least one improvement per day for a while to get in the habit. We’ll see how it goes.

More on Wikis

I’ve been taking notes on AgileWiki, a wiki implemented in Java by a team lead by Bill la Forge based on Rolonics theory which was developed by Norman Kashdan. The funny part about it is I was using instiki to take these notes. I have to admit, instiki is one of the best and easiest wikis to install and use for person use. I don’t know how to install it on my webhosting site yet and I don’t know how it scales but I’m going to use it for personal notes on my local system.

Wikis

I discovered a new free public wiki site today. It is called wiki.com. It has a lot of neat features. My test wiki is called occasional. Three guesses what the inspiration for that was. I liked a lot of the features of wiki.com but there was one thing missing. I could find no way to download my content to back it up. I emailed the support folks to see if I missed something. I’ll let you know what they say.

I’ve got this idea that a wiki would be a good way to develop the back story for a television series. I’m playing with instiki on my local system. I’ll figure out how to get it hooked up to apache and try and move it up to wildroseandbriar soon. Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be any one wiki that is the clear winner in terms of simplicity and features yet.

Prioritization, Multitasking and Dog The Bounty Hunter

Prioritization is an activity that takes a lot of attention. I feel that I have only recently started practicing it. I’ve been making lists and checking them twice. Actually, I’ve only been checking them once at most but twice has such a nice ring to it :-). I’ve also been reevaluating and reprioritizing which is something that I always neglected before for the most part.

I’m also multitasking a good bit more. For example, right now I’m writing this blog post and catching up on one of my favorite series of YouTube videos. I am watching “Telling it all Part 6” by geriatric1927 right now. This delightful old British gentleman has been sharing the story of his life, 8 minutes at a time. It is wonderful.

I have to get up very early tomorrow morning to take my daughter in for outpatient surgery so I have to wrap this up. I couldn’t let another day go by without writing something here. Right now, I’m going to go watch the rerun of Dog the bounty hunter getting married on TV.