mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
Here at the University of Dundee the hourly workers, those up to grade 6, typically work 36¼ hours per week. Up at grade 8 my contract is vaguer: as a salaried employee I am expected to put enough time in to get my work done. Still, I was surprised to realize that I am probably averaging over 43 hours per week which is perhaps more than I ought and could help to explain why I have difficulty also getting as much done outside work as I used to.

For much of my working life I was on Federal cost-plus contracts from the Department of Defense that most easily expect an average of 40-hour weeks which worked fine for me. At my previous job the arrangement was instead a minimum of 40-hour weeks that, given the occasional need to work rather more and their reluctance to count times when their computers stopped working or whatever as work time, felt mean enough to me that I considered it a victory to have averaged under 41 hours over the course of my employment there.

I am not sure what is appropriate in my present position but my sense is that I still ought not average much over 40 hours. I get into work at 8h to snag a parking space and so that my workday better corresponds to when my children are also out of the house; I routinely fast so I need not take lunch; I also do not want to leave my desk before 16h because many of my colleagues arrive after 9h, take lunch and work correspondingly later. I figure that I should thus feel okay about doing some personal things over my workday such as making journal entries here and I should also try harder to not stay well after 16h.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
Since I am now exercising for an hour on three days per week it occurred to me that I could try setting aside that same hour on other days for the computer programming that I have been wanting to do for a long time. We have a houseguest at the moment but next month once I am back from the US I should give this a try.

I had mentioned that a problem I have had is that it takes me a good while just to get back into such projects so when I do set aside time I make little progress. It occurred to me that if I try more frequently then my startup time may soon be much reduced. Sometimes it takes me a while to think of the obvious.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I realized a little of why I do not make much progress on the projects I want to get on with on computers at home. I am comparing with my productivity at work but there I get to focus for a few hours at a time on a task. The kinds of projects I want to pursue at home take enough thought, and use rusty enough skills, that it takes me an hour's work just to properly get back into them and gain some momentum. By that time it is pretty much time for me to wrap up and come do something with my family, with whom I do want to get to spend time.

This is why I still manage to do jobs like posting entries to this journal: it is the kind of thing I can switch right into with little preparation and handle in a shorter span of time. Yesterday [personal profile] mst3kmoxie kindly handled the children's afternoon visit to Dundee which gave me time at home that mostly went into upgrading our OpenBSD machines to v6.1, a slightly fiddly process. I manage to keep on top of these maintenance tasks, I just don't get to make the additional time around job and family and sleep to really push forward on anything. I do need to do something because my present job is not secure and by this point is not really advancing my own career, though I am likely to soon be learning about Vert.x and at least my paid work helps scientists.

On reflection, there are a couple of solutions. I do not make the progress even with smaller-scale easier-to-start tasks that I should, even if I enjoy them, so there is something to address there; maybe I could better notice what it is that I am doing instead though that may often simply be feeling tired. I also waste time in being available to my family at times when none of them feel interactive: perhaps I need to actually plan family time a bit better and remind of my interruptibility at other times. Further, I might need to more firmly set aside a long solid chunk of some weekend day toward useful ends so that the getting-started time does not dominate.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
In The West Wing (1999) the senior White House staffers chronically work very long hours. How does this make sense? Is it good for their cognition to be ongoingly compromised? Can there not be enough staff to take on the workload? Perhaps the problem is that they would not be able to leave notes for each other or that they do not have enough room to put all the people or something. It does seem as if there has to be a more effective way for them to work. Maybe we are supposed to believe that they are so superlatively good at their jobs that even half-asleep they outperform some next-best people who might instead be on duty to catch some acute situation.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I noticed that for a few chores getting them done takes the general form of starting then just keeping on with them. Progress is tangible, consistent and monotonic then they always terminate. This applies to mowing the lawns, wrapping Christmas gifts, exercising on the cross-trainer, ironing a pile of clothes, various kinds of thing. Usually the only thing stopping them from being completed is willpower to maintain the menial activity.

It is only in recent times that I have much noticed this class of chores which makes me wonder if now I do more of them. It seems as if there ought to be a name for it.

Whereas, say, some of my computer programming at work is not of this form. I may see a large task ahead of me and make myself buckle down and start chewing off the next parts of it. However, clear thinking and decision-making much affect the outcome. Technical risk can make progress unpredictably uneven and completion uncertain. Programming is thus in a different class of activity. Indeed, one of my tasks over recent weeks felt like it was over 80% done for over 80% of the time that I worked on it; the ongoing sense of now being nearly finished kept me from shelving it.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I recently mentioned how it had taken all my willpower to get through even that gentler workout. I did not even get that far after work today: I started my workout and was doing as usual physically but I just so could not be bothered with the whole thing and did only a small fraction of it. I felt fed up with doing so many things that I do not want to but feel I ought.

On Sunday I had also mentioned feeling tired. That has been lasting. I have been sleeping fine, well at least solidly unconscious overnight. Still, I have felt tired over the day. In my ongoing effort to familiarize myself with more American literature I am reading John Gardner's The Sunlight Dialogues before bed; last night I forewent that and just laid down to sleep.

I am perhaps suffering some accumulated frustration that my life is not as I would like. I am much more constrained now than I hope to be in the long term but it is the present I inhabit. A lot of what I do with my time is not too bad but is not what I would have chosen. I do try to appreciate how very lucky I am: I have enjoyed sunshine lately, my children are happy and healthy, [personal profile] mst3kmoxie kindly finds and makes us various food, my colleagues at work are nice, the work I do is useful to many, others in my team bear stresses that I am glad in my role to evade, etc. For other personal reasons that I suspect of being relevant, it is an awkward time of year for me so that may simply pass. I envy my children their full-time schooling: yesterday I walked past the Al-Maktoum College advertising courses in Arabic and noted that such has no chance of even making it on to my to-do list.

I indulge a little in pleasant distractions. For example, I enjoy writing in this journal and I watch some television, tonight's being the latest Have I Got News for You (1990). I know that with more spare time at home and less to distract me I would get on with productive things that please me but that is hardly a new thought. My current plan is the usual of just hanging in there and remembering that life is full of surprises.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
Since dropping the children off in Dundee this morning I have been doing various chores around the house and yards, including killing the most obvious weeds and attempting to fix some loose bathroom tiles, hence the white grout now caked onto my fingernails. I had mentioned missing the wire mesh window screens since moving from the US. [personal profile] mst3kmoxie has some kind of mesh for fixing over our patio door so I wiped the latest mold from around the glass and frame ready for her to use the included adhesive pads.

This weekend is unusually pleasant in that there are no exceptional impediments to my getting on with useful things. While such impediments may individually be exceptional, the fact that there is an exceptional impediment of some kind is itself hardly exceptional. Another one is coming: in my mowing the yards, the mower's drive belt snapped. I have ordered a replacement but I shall have to put some time aside for installing it: yet another exceptional event occupying what little useful personal time I do get.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
Naturally one's life is a balance between what one must do and what one wants to do. Lately I am not doing quite as well as I would like in that balance: I take some relaxing time for myself but thus barely stay on top of even simple tasks. For example, it has taken quite a while for me to post to Gumtree advertising some rather old desktop computers for which we no longer have room. I made a bootable live image on a USB flash drive, brought some old-computer-related items down from the attic, brought the computers in from the garage, used the live image to check their hardware and wipe their hard drives, lost my screwdriver, found it again, photographed them, and today finally posted about them. Those steps largely happened quite separately over the course of many days: I am hardly single-mindedly focused on a mission, I instead make small advancements on the rare occasions on which I feel inclined. My ambitions tomorrow don't go much beyond spraying some glyphosate on weeds outdoors and deltamethrin around where creatures may enter the house, and trimming my nails. So, I do some useful things at home, perhaps sufficient but it hardly feels encouraging or inspiring.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Yesterday morning on the radio I heard discussion of the large amounts of money paid by Her Majesty's Government to private contractors to assess people's ability to work, regarding eligibility for disability benefits. I think it was Stephen Crabb, a previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, suggesting that the sums paid are probably reasonable if the private companies are not making much profit on them. A quick search online finds him quoted as saying, If the payments being made reflect the actual economic cost, then I think that is a fair contract.

Argh, no!, I thought in response. Americans have a similar system. )

Paying companies according to their actual cost in doing the work gives them very little incentive to work at all efficiently. The government pays their costs either way. )

I found it a little surreal at Aetion for the government to pay for our time in interacting with the government auditor who would come in, analyze our timesheets and books, and find that we had slightly underbilled the government so we could then ask for more money. We were unusual in actually working efficiently. )

Given that the mortgage on the property in which one's government-project contractors work is a fair overhead to bill, it is hard for me not to see some government contractors as an opaque device to have the taxpayer buy the owners a handsome piece of real estate over the course of some years.

I would far rather see private contractors given tight verifiable-outcome requirements for each milestone payment and, while open to competitive bidding to limit typical profits, able to go ahead and do the work cheaply if they find a way to without losing revenue for achieving that. The occasional larger profit margin is well worth scrapping the overhead of carefully measuring and auditing how much it costs companies to achieve goals inefficiently in the knowledge that the government will still pay.

Large projects can be subdivided to manage risk. )

I should clarify that none of the above relates to my current employment: I do not know the details of our funding. )
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
NHS Digital today published their latest Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet for England. Regarding adult physical activity it includes the interesting finding,
People who are long term unemployed or have never worked were most likely to be inactive (37%). Those in managerial, administrative and professional occupations were the least likely to be inactive (17%).
I would not have expected this: depending on professional those kinds of occupations tend to be time-consuming and sedentary. Whereas, I might think that the unemployed would have found time for habitual recreational exercise.

I do not know if the explanation is that these unemployed are actually busy parents and suchlike or if they are simply broadly unmotivated in many spheres of life, perhaps not unconnectedly: depression over unemployment could spread to general lack of purposeful activity? I may be missing the obvious.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
This afternoon actually went quite well. I felt tired and achy and inclined to laze around but I did make it to my desk and started to get my previous Erlang work back into my mind and perhaps even made a little progress with it, for perhaps the first time in years. I noticed that initially forcing focus on that work felt a little like meditating wherein I prevent myself from indulging in stream-of-consciousness random thoughts. The trick now is to make my work upstairs more like a daily than a monthly habit. At least I had left myself some design notes from previous work meaning that today I did not have to think as hard as before. Still, it was difficult enough that I did not also have music on.

Afterward I brought my four desktop computers in from the garage so that I can inspect them and wipe their hard drives. We might have a use for them in a larger house but certainly not here. They were quite highly specified for a decade ago but now are probably ready to be just given away, along with some extra expansion cards I have in a box in the attic. With the surprisingly balmy weather I also turned the heating off and mowed our small front yard.

Update: Later on in the evening I put on Jean-Michel Jarre's Zoolook and did a bit more of my Erlang work.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
It's about time for me to be bothered about my productivity again. Though, it does help that my server-side code at work seems to be behaving rather better now I adjusted part of it to interact with Spring more and Hibernate/JDBC less. I don't much understand why and it took inconveniently long for me to hit on a recipe that behaved. Though, testing was tricky as the problem initially looked like a race condition or resource depletion which took a while to happen, compounded by that it turns out that some of our client-side tests positively hemorrhage file descriptors.

At home I have been managing an unimpressive but not-worst level of activity: my clothes have been staying hung up, I've occasionally washed my bedsheets, I'm mostly on top of my filing, I've been keeping frequent backups of our computers. I even briefly considered wiping down some window frames. I have been able to tread water quite well but in incoming e-mail at work I recently read What is current long-term career goal? (sic.) and had to laugh inwardly. Within my current position I think there is scope for someday working on OMERO.iviewer which would allow me to brush off my rusty JavaScript while avoiding Django. But, overall, I am in an impermanent post away from any large cities: it feels just a little too fragile.

Unusually I have been sufficiently on top of things to actually have had some free time lately. I am not much drawn into television: since SS-GB (2017) finished perhaps The Americans (2013) is the only current drama I watch. But, I have felt tired or unmotivated; I've largely let that free time slip through my fingers. Often I've wanted to spend the time with my family but they do understand that if I go away to my desk upstairs to get things done then it is not because I want to be apart from them. Maybe I will get around to actually doing that.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
One problem lately, at both home and at work, is that many tasks turn into something rather worse than I might have hoped. For instance, just now I thought I would look at installing qtox on OpenBSD except that I got mired in a horrible mess of aclocal and Automake versions and whatnot and then our broadband PPP connection hiccuped twice while I was doing it and tipped me over into giving up. (At first I thought the powerline ethernet adapters were at fault but I then checked the router logs.)

At work I have been wrestling with tricky lightly documented code at the core of the server that is wrapped up tightly in Hibernate and Spring: for the most part I am not quite sure what is happening, what should happen, nor why. Among the many times I thought, oh, maybe it will work now only to find in time that my attempt wasn't yet good enough, there have been multiple occasions where it turned out I ran into another bug in Hibernate: it is poorly documented, riddled with longstanding bugs, and popular in the industry. At least somebody else fixed OpenStack when the instance I was using for testing fell victim to the OOM killer.

My problem tasks are not just with computers: for example, my last couple of trips to the doctor and the garage and whatnot were for issues that I think still remain essentially unresolved. Also, I just tried to arrange some child's swimming lessons only to find that the schedule has changed to now make them incompatible with where they go to school, and I tried to arrange some extra science lessons in St Andrews only to find that the teaching schedule conflicts with prior commitments. I do try to execute useful actions but little has gone easily in recent weeks.

A reason why in the longer term I need to get back to writing my own software, using languages like Erlang and Haskell, is mental hygiene. Wrestling legacy code in enterprise software stacks is just horrible. My inclination toward tractable, simple elegance in windowing platforms extends further into other areas of computing, though I still make far too little time to effect substantial progress in that direction. My current work does bring the occasional more pleasant taste: for example, I get a lot of the PostgreSQL tasks writing SQL and PL/pgSQL and that at least is well-documented and quite clean to work with. I can't help but wonder if I would have been happier in some alternative career programming microcontrollers for advanced prostheses and suchlike. But, languages like Haskell bring me good surprises: I think, hmm, I could express a solution like this, but what will the compiler think? and it works! As opposed to the bad surprises from libraries like Hibernate where if I do something a little differently, let alone ambitiously, I risk suffering another unanticipated pitfall.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I feel that I have been juggling many balls lately. My tasks at work have tended to be more urgent than usual and there has been enough domestic trivia that, on top of my routine chores like bill-paying and backups and workouts and whatever, by the time I have done enough of what remains on my to-do list I am ready to just relax and go to sleep. It is vexing to still be just about treading water in various ways when someday real life will require me to have made actual progress.
mtbc: maze G (black-magenta)
At the best of times I play piano very poorly. Tonight I actually touched the keyboard for the first time this year: mostly using just one finger from each hand, I made my way through three tunes so slowly that they were unrecognizable. I shall take it as a small sign of tangible progress: a clear step even if far short of any useful end. Perhaps my productivity has increased slightly because our routine has not been perturbed lately: we are now well past the holiday season and largely caught up on chores.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I awoke rather prematurely this morning. If I am sufficiently awake then it is not worth my trying to get any more sleep: I am not a easy-napping kind of person. Lying in bed I found myself being bothered by thoughts about odd matters like employment contracts' terms regarding contact with the press for people whose jobs put them much in the public eye.

If I had a useful amount of willpower I would have used the opportunity of an early start to get the day's exercise out of the way. But, it is cold and dark outdoors and the cross-trainer is in the garage and I am more pathetic than I ought to be, so here I sit with coffee and laptop computer. In the US it is far easier to find a home with enough of a cellar to be useful extra in-home space to keep items like exercise equipment but I need to be better at enjoying where I am instead of missing where I am not.

It is not any colder outdoors than times I have previously gone out to exercise: I am just short of willpower and enthusiasm. I do cope with various things: I actually managed to get back to writing a little Haskell at home last night, though on a project I now recall might be rendered useless in a few months by others; our washing machine is broken again; I am unjoyfully battling Hibernate interceptors at work while editing code I only half-understand to make it support new behavior; I got more things stowed in the attic for now; I caught up with my neglected filing of paperwork. But there are limits and I am not managing to push them enough to get ahead in any meaningful sense. I do not even want to work on that bit of Haskell code right now. I have background irritation at living in a small cluttered house, earning barely enough to support us in our modest lifestyle, and the weather having been generally gray and cold and damp lately: small problems by the standards of many and I need to be better at seeing past them, at having them motivate me instead of wear me down.

This morning I learned bad news about somebody who I had thought a good presence in the world, and I don't think that lightly. I did not know them well yet I can all too easily turn it into an excuse why I should not be expected to get much done today. In practice it does work best for me to just continue as normal but I shall think of them nonetheless.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I typically watch some television every night because if I do anything more intellectually active late in the evening than I cannot easily get to sleep afterward: at the end of the day I seem to need to wind down. After having made some tangible progress in my paid Java work yesterday, in the evening I moved on to some bash scripting for scraping the BBC's education website. It was menial enough, mostly just some inelegantly written for, grep and sed that only half had my attention as I was also watching coverage of last fall's Wisconsin Book Festival then a couple of episodes of Fauda (2015). But, I still felt wide awake quite late and had to read a little in bed to calm my mind down. I have thus relearned to be just passively entertained within a couple of hours of retiring upstairs.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
My taking of vitamin supplements and my improvement in mood coincided with the arrival of other seasonal distractions. Now life is returning to normal I find my mood again declining: I am sufficiently bothered to not be falling asleep easily tonight. I ran out of vitamin D this evening; perhaps it is not worth refreshing stocks.

I feel that after meeting my various obligations and getting enough rest I have too little time left for myself and for pursuing what would make me happy. One way to address this might be to rethink my obligations: perhaps I construct my own jail. But, others depend on me and I love them and want to do what is right for them.

The world is strange and irrational: I do not greatly blame myself or anybody else for my present circumstances. Indeed, I have much to be thankful for: my health, my children's health, my time with them, my nice colleagues at work, that I have a job that allows me to support my family, that I live in a pretty area, that I have many good memories. Life is full of surprises: if I just keep on going then there may be something good and lasting around a coming bend.

I think that my experiment with reversing my withdrawal and returning to more social interaction has reached its safe extent for the meantime. It is probably tolerable, even healthful, to continue using Dreamwidth and a couple of other small avenues but I don't plan to push any further back out into the world for the meantime.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I have been feeling a little burned out lately. I am not sure if this indicates a touch of depression but, nonetheless, I have felt at about the limits of my productivity. Sure, I work a full-time job averaging over forty hours per week, and they prefer us to be physically present so I waste an additional hour each day traveling, but others manage to work more than that, my boss included, and my actual work doesn't demand the range of skills and creativity that past jobs have nor am I on my team's most demanding project.

I also help out with household and family stuff but neither of those is particularly demanding either. Still, I don't feel able to do much more besides: I do make progress on other small projects but slowly and sporadically. Often I just feel like watching a couple of light television shows then going to bed and, given the chance, I can easily sleep for nine hours or so, more than I used to. When I do have spare energy then there are tasks like pruning the hedge awaiting me.

We don't typically get to carry vacation over to the next calendar year so at this time of year I am starting to take days off at a higher rate. I've been using that time to catch up with small chores on which I had fallen behind, for example yesterday I did a couple of months' worth of filing bills and statements and suchlike. I also now feel more enthusiastic about dusting off my Erlang, Haskell and JavaScript work. After a little time to rest and relax I naturally tend toward becoming productive but somehow I seem to have about enough energy to meet my present obligations without having extra for strategically improving our lot in life: one of those dangerous issues of importance but not urgency.

I'll get to take things easy over Christmas. I guess I'll see how I'm feeling after that break. I wish I still felt just that bit more dynamically enthusiastic though after my paid work is done.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
It is increasingly pressing upon me the degree to which I am relying on knowledge and skills that I learned years ago rather than continuing to learn at my previous rate. For OSU I developed everything from distributed design optimization to a flexible equation solver. At EMBL-EBI I was mostly working on functional genome annotation in Common Lisp. With Aetion I was having to learn about a range of application domains, from sonar to drug design to counterterrorism, interfacing with others' models and data where possible, using a range of tools from PostScript to Amazon EC2. At Vecna I needed to know the standard enterprise application stack from Oracle, PostgreSQL up through Hibernate, Spring, J2EE to jQuery, with anything from git to BioPerl to TikZ on the side. I don't really have to learn much biology or image analysis for my present work at Dundee; in terms of extending my skills the main thing has really been just a bit of Python which I can largely work out with the help of the online docs and past experience in languages like Perl and Haskell. In fairness, I am positively encouraged to learn things, which is why it is fine for me to go to these seminars and symposia, but the set of reusable skills that much benefit our funded work is generally a comfortable subset of what I already knew when I started and what I am not using I am forgetting.

I do try to continue learning at home; through putting aside music and mathematics I have especially made efforts with Erlang and OpenBSD. I also spend time on other activities like exercise. But, with getting home after 17h and needing to be in bed by 22h, by the time I have helped with dinner, children's homework, etc., caught up with household bills (e.g., I've still to do insurance renewals), watched a couple of television shows or read a bit to wind down before bed, that's pretty much the evening gone. Saturdays are busy lately too: last weekend Miranda had an orthodontist appointment at 9h, a chemistry class at 10h, and both children were attending a club at the library over the afternoon. I find that if I want to try to be productive with interesting new things then it is very hard for me to fit that in around a life that already includes full-time work and otherwise supporting my family.

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Mark T. B. Carroll

September 2017

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