Friday, 28 November 2008

Pacing & Deadlines

Last night I reached word 50,000 on this year's NaNoWriMo attempt, somehow blazing through 6000 words over the course of the evening - the closer I got to the 50,000 mark, the harder it was to contemplate putting my laptop away for the night without finishing, even though I knew there was a whole weekend left for uninterrupted writing.

Yet compared to last year (my first NaNo), when I pushed myself like crazy and finished on day 13, I've taken it much more steadily this year. This year I just pottered along, trying to make sure I wrote at least a thousand words each day and catching up at the weekends - which has the advantage that I've reached 50k without getting burned out. (I wrote nothing in the second half of November last year, and very little in December.)

One thing that interests me is how different this is to my usual behaviour around deadlines - which is to wait until the last possible moment, then go crazy. Even for my final year project as an undergraduate, I knew how many words I needed and I knew that I could write 1000 words an hour... yes, this is as bad as it sounds. As hard as I tried, I couldn't concentrate until I knew I was cutting it fine. After a night of solid writing, I was printing it out at 11am - with the deadline for submission looming at 12. Certainly no time for rewriting or editing; thankfully I've always been good at spelling.

Part of the reason I've started serialising my novel online is to give myself a recurring weekly deadline - I'm a couple of chapters ahead of the website schedule, but I'd like it to stay that way! So I know there's a minimum amount I need to write each week.

I'm now starting to think about doing some writing towards my PhD (well, not the actual thesis, but the transfer report). On the one hand, I'm trying to work with my supervisor to make sure that I have smaller chunks with their own deadlines to work towards (to keep my deadline-driven brain in gear), but on the other hand I'm going to learn from my NaNo experiences and (at least try to) take it slow & steady - I have years of study ahead of me, so I can't afford to get burned out.

Last night I raised my glass to finishing ahead of schedule - let's see if that's a habit I can keep :)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Why programming is (comparatively) easy

I can't be the only person who frequently finds the command line not only more powerful but actually easier to use than the graphical alternative - and frequently finds that writing code is easier than using programmes other people have written.

Computers are pleasingly logical; if you know the right syntax you can (usually) guarantee that the computer will do exactly what you tell it to, no more and no less. Back in my childhood I used to write BASIC, and then we got Windows 3.1 and I learnt to boot into DOS if I wanted to be in control. Now I've grown up and moved across to Linux, where I know I can get a powerful terminal any time I want to do something complicated (knowing I can write shell scripts, Perl or Java as necessary).

Compare this to using a graphical interface that someone else has written. Now you have to second-guess the mindset of the person who wrote the GUI - if you use Microsoft products enough then you 'just know' what you're likely to find under the various menus, but even that doesn't seem to hold under Vista (which I've examined briefly on my husband's machine). I often feel I'm using more effort trying to work out other people's logic than it would take to simply write a script myself.

The classic example, for me, is MySpace. I signed up for an account about three years ago, but I couldn't figure out how to customise the layout... it was easier to just build a website from scratch! Someone later pointed out that I should have pasted a website's worth of HTML into the 'About Me' box, or somewhere equally unintuitive, but it was too late by then - I'd had enough of being made to feel stupid by someone else's design so I just walked away.

At least when programming, whatever the language, there's an underlying logic at the core (even if, as with Python, it's quite well hidden under layers of whitespace).

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


We've spent most of the last year trying to keep the deer out of our garden - ever since they ate all our runner beans towards the end of the 2007 season. We thought we'd managed it, but they've recently started coming in again.

We've had foxes recently, too - sitting out sunbathing whenever the weather's been nice. And woodpeckers eating from our bird feeder. I'm realising it makes me very happy that we have such a variety of wildlife in our garden - and I really like seeing the deer grazing just outside the window. It's only when they start eating my food that it worries me.

So I'm wondering if we can change our priorities - is there a way we can just deer-proof the vegetables, and have the rest of the garden so that we don't mind the deer wandering around it?

Friday, 14 November 2008

The obligatory meta-blog

I think it's probably against some internet law to start a blog without making explicit comments to that effect: "This is my blog," and so on. I'm sure no-one bothers to go back and read the first post anyway - I'm guessing the world at large won't realise I have a blog until I'm a few posts in. By that stage, maybe I will have learnt how to drive this thing!

Anyway, for the benefit of anyone who does read this, whether now or later...

I apologise for not really understanding that much about how this software works (even though I technically signed up over a year ago). I'm accustomed to building websites from scratch - learning to use other people's systems seems to take more work! But I didn't really want to have to install my own blogging software when it already exists.

Since I expect to have 'things to say' on a fairly wide variety of topics, I'm guessing (hoping!) it might make it easier for people to navigate if I try to keep to one topic per post. This sounds hard - I'm very easily sidetracked! - but I will try.

I'm also going to attempt to integrate this into my website, I'm assuming there must be an API somewhere, but I haven't had chance to look for it yet. Sounds like a project for next weekend (last weekend was all about learning to auto-generate PDF files using PHP... don't ask).

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