Day 203 – Management Self-Study

It didn’t take long for me to get hooked.
It amazes me that HR didn’t already know about it.

I am listening to a management podcast that is really good at providing concrete actionable suggestions on being better at routine management skills and tasks.

I think every manager should listen to Manager Tools Basics at least, which has some great foundational topics. And the ongoing Manager Tools podcast builds on those basics to cover topics like hiring, politics, reviews, and so on.

If it’s management, there’s an episode for it.

Day 183 – Logic and Reason

I spent a large chunk of today working through 12 weeks of Critical Thinking lectures to work out what they were actually trying to say. I could see the ghost of pure deductive logic shining through, albeit somewhat obscured by a certain amount of hand-waving that I’m not convinced actually did anything to simplify the concepts. Still.

Now I have 5 pages of notes that summarise the key points.


I think for the sake of simplicity the lectures are taking some liberties with precision though. The examples supporting the distinction between arguments and explanations are too ambiguous to be didactically useful. And the distinction is open to interpretation to begin with… in many cases one person’s agreed fact is another’s unsupported premise, flipping an explanation into an argument.

Then it went into a whole notation system for structured analysis or an argument that didn’t get used again until the very last lecture, and without sufficient notational detail to actually illuminate the full structure of an argument. It’s either more than it needs, or not enough for comprehensiveness.

But maybe that’s my scientist brain rebelling against all the superfluous distinctions being introduced. An Argument consists of Premises leading to a Conclusion. Premises and Conclusions consist of Simple and Complex Propositions… why, why, why? An Argument is a Complex Proposition itself; one that asserts that the Implication of the conjunction of its Propositions forming the Premises is the Proposition of the Conclusion.

Either the course should have started from Formal Logic introducing far fewer muddling concepts to begin with, and building a firm and complete foundation for what follows, or it should just have spent less time on the incomplete formalisation it attempts. It just feels like empty calories; very unsatisfying.

As the lectures move from the more formal foundations into the more informal interpretation of arguments written in conversational English, it actually gets somewhat better. Explaining the underpinnings of a strong scientific argument, and correctly using and compositing representative samples gives a lot of practical tools to find the holes or weaknesses in typical “newspaper”* articles.

It does a pretty good job explaining the purpose of a control group in scientific experimentation. It provides some constructive suggestions how to check when correlation might not imply causation. It provides suggestions on how to test the strength of an argument through evaluating alternate explanations. It does a very concise overview of the most relevant fallacies in typical arguments.

It even, delightfully does a reasonably nuanced explanation of both the virtues and dangers of rhetorical devices when constructing an argument. It seems like rhetorical devices are most often either overlooked altogether, or so over-utilised that it harms the efficacy of the argument to convince. It even defines and advocates the ethical use of such devices, which is refreshing.

Still, I wish it were more rigorous and parsimonious throughout. It could be better! (from the perspective of this recovering perfectionist).

I just hope that my notes haven’t gone overboard as a result.
I was after all just helping someone study this material.

I may have gotten a little carried away with my thoughts.

* – for very liberal interpretations of what makes up a “newspaper” in this day and age. I don’t think it tends to involved paper so much.

Day 182 – Lost in Math

I had intended to find a math-y song. I was going to post about logic and reason, which I am re-studying for reasons of helping.

I got a little distracted.
It was wonderful.

I want to share with you my findings.

1. I Have Been Doing Toothpaste Wrong

2. Poincaré Apparently Raps Well

3. Maths Can be Quite Romantic

4. 12 Days is Too Much for Christmath

5. Mandelbrot is Easier to Follow with Images

You are Welcome!

Day 172 – Simplify

I’m not entirely sure what today was about. It had a number of the usual Saturday features, including a very demanding and tough and oh-so-worthwhile gym session in the morning, and an overwhelming desire to clean only overshadowed by an even more overwhelming desire not to.

Instead I spent a lot of time watching movies and TV, letting my mind wander for inspiration on what I want to achieve with 2014. I know, it sounds counter-productive to my stated aim, but a little reflection helps me work out what is most important to me… I think.

I’m not sure it worked yet so far.

I am strongly considering making “Simplify” the theme for the year. I’m sure I could get some mileage out of that one. Even though it sounds pretentious and vague to me too. But it just *feels* like the right theme, so I think I’m going to run with it for a while and see what I end up with.

So far, that makes my official list of resolutions for the coming year:

  • Simplify
  • Keep my gym routine challenging
  • Eat healthier
  • 3200×1800 … (sorry, nerdy joke, couldn’t resist)

Day 128 – The Perfect Machine

I have been down this road before.
It’s never quite right.

When I have a stand-alone PC, I really want a laptop.
And when I have a laptop, I cannot wait to have a PC.

I want to easily carry my machine around. I want to upgrade the pieces when I want to. I want a high-res screen, lots of memory, a fast graphics card.

And when I got my most recent tablaptop for work (Samsung Ativ; best tool ever), I got to add touch screens to my must-have list as well. It doesn’t seem crucial until you’ve had one for a while and then it becomes hard not to touch every screen followed by a brief pang of disappointment when it turns out that’s my other machine.

I want touch. And a keyboard. And a mouse. And a pen. All at the same time. Because they each are good at something different. And oddly, the tool that has most driven that home for me has been Microsoft OneNote… I didn’t think I would ever be able to like it because it seemed clunky, but for some reason the combo of every-input-method-at-the-same-time seems to make it bearable.

I couldn’t have a main machine without a keyboard. I can type pretty well on a touch tablet, but it’s just not the same as having actual physical keys for best typing speed.

I’m more and more convinced that touch could completely replace mouse input once we get around all the legacy UI out there that isn’t designed for touch. I really use the mouse only very minimally when I need to manipulate things that are too small for my fingers. Which happens more often with the arrival of retina displays everywhere.

And a pen… I’m no artist… but there is something magical about doodling little diagrams and notes in the margin of a typed document. The S-Pen with the Samsung devices is absolutely amazing. I have no idea what hardware supports it, but the machine knows where the pen is before I even touch the screen; the cross-hairs will pop up as you approach the screen so you can aim where you want the next line to start.

The Ativ is great. It was worth every cent. The problem I have with it isn’t that it doesn’t do what I need. The problem is that I want it to do more. I want it to do EVERYTHING.

My dream machine would be a laptop that can convert to a tablet. Ideally not by undocking because that just leaves an awkward left-over keyboard to the side. The Dell XPS 12 appeals conceptually with its flip screen, but the other specs just do not go far enough. And it’s only 12″.

I like the idea of the new Dell XPS 15 for its high-res Retina screen. I want 15″ at 3200×1800 … I want my screen to look like there is no such thing as a pixel. I want that to be an implementation detail I no longer can notice.

But I also want a fast graphics card. I play games at times, and 3200×1800 really needs more than a medium-range card. I have a last-gen card in my PC, and a 27″ 2560×1440 monitor, and I haven’t found anything that I play that I cannot max out at that resolution.

I want an SSD only… no spinning metal for me, and at least 256GB please. I want 16GB main memory for development. I want a 4th gen i7 processor. I want a battery that lasts me through at least half a day without a power point. I want to be able to dock to my 27″ at home for extra screen real estate. Maybe even 2 external screens.

It doesn’t feel like reality is very far off this mark, but the closer it gets to meeting my requirements the more annoying it feels that we’re not there yet. I’m sure we have the technology to build my ideal machine today. I’m ready to pay handsomely for the privilege. But it. Just. Doesn’t. Exist. Yet.

At least today’s post has a nice round number.
That makes up for it a bit.
A little bit.

Day 119 – Prepping Meetings

Tonight I am preparing for something new in my management routine. Or rather, modifying something existing to try and make it more effective.

I’ve been listening to Manager Tools, and they very heartily recommend a weekly meeting with a very specific structure. So I’ve scheduled all my meetings on the middle day of the week and I’m trying to take some notes beforehand about what I want to talk about.

The podcast suggests that Thursday is the ideal day, but they do not quite explain why, other than not to make it the start or the very end of the week. For one thing my Thursday is already taken.

For another, I like the idea of putting this meeting in the middle of the week because on the one hand it leaves enough time for direct reports to remember what they were doing after coming back from the weekend, on the other there is enough time left in the week to actually do something substantive with any feedback that might come out of the session.

I have no idea what to expect.

The timing worked out interestingly too, because this first time around I am actually in Melbourne, so my otherwise-local-developers will start off remote, and my remote developers local.

It’s one big experiment!

Back to preparing notes now đŸ™‚

Planning and Learning

This morning I successfully acquired the right SIM for my new phone. The transaction at Virgin Mobile Blacktown was quick and painless. I will need to spend a few more days making sure I get everything I care about across from the Galaxy Nexus to the Nexus 5, but then I can wipe the former and dispose of it.

In an hour I have a 30 minute cycle class to break up the day.
And then…

I’m going to start on a Web 2.0 adventure. I’ve meant to learn some new skills and build something for too long now. Time to bite the bullet.

I have the outline of an idea for a set of related problems I want to solve (scratching your own itch has been proven the best place to start). I have VS2013 Beta on my machine (so an upgrade will be in order first). And I have a list of compatible technologies to explore.

I guess this also means my personal GitHub account will finally get some love.

Wish me luck!

Sydney Savaged – A Dangerous Idea

Mid last week, an envelope arrived from the Sydney Opera House. It took me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything.

The contents of the envelope looked like advertising, but luckily I looked more closely before referring it to the bin. They were my Dan Savage tickets that I had ordered months ago and had completely forgotten about again.

For those that do not know who Dan Savage is, let me give you a small selection of links to follow. Beware; at the other end of these links there is a high dose of snark, sarcasm and wit. Also, sex advice from his column… it is often funny, but I need to make sure you know what you’re in for.

  • Dan Savage’s online columnin which people write in their problems (sometimes hilarious problems, often hilarious advice)
  • Dan Savage’s podcastin which people leave voicemail with their problems (see above)
  • Dan Savage’s YouTube channelin which Dan visits campuses and students write their problems on cue cards
  • Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” projectin which Dan has tried to counteract despair with hope to cut suicide by gay teenagers

I’m not sure what to expect from the show the tickets are for, but my guess is it’ll be somewhere in the ballpark of the third bullet point. It’ll be great to see him speak up-close and in person.

Prelude to a Post

This weekend is special.

I had considered to make use of the special alignment of the sun and the moon and the stars (read: calendar) to do something really cheeky for 365 this weekend.

Technically speaking, under the rules of my blogging challenge I can write about the same event twice. Once on the day it occurs, and then once more within 24 hours on the following day.

This weekend is the one time a year I can write about the same event thrice.

Because tomorrow morning at 2am, we lose an hour here in Sydney (meaning tomorrow is only 23 hours long), I could:

  1. Do something really exciting between 11:30pm and midnight tonight
  2. Quickly post about it today before midnight
  3. Any time tomorrow post about it again
  4. Then, on Monday between midnight and 0:30am, post about it a third time

But it just felt too much like cheating.

Also, the options* for point (1) above were fairly limited.

As an aside, as a software developer I was giddy to see that when I updated my alarm for tomorrow morning on my phone, the Android app (OS?) was actually well enough written to realise that between 9pm today and 8am tomorrow there are only 10 hours elapsed. Attention to detail matters!

*Restricted to topics that would be appropriate for this blog.