tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (travel)
Since it seems that a lot of people don't know what I'm doing (and writing this post won't change that since even if I link it everywhere, the vagaries of various social media software will make sure most people never see it, lol):

I just finished my first week working at Heroku as an engineer on the HTTP Routing Infrastructure team. While most of the first week was spent shuffling ssh keys hither and yon, from here on I'll be writing some Erlang.

I'm living in the Mission (two blocks from Tartine, Maxfield's, and Bi-Rite) for the rest of July, subletting a room in a friend's place.

Since I have the privilege of being able to work remotely, I'm going to take advantage of that privilege for a while (as nice as the Heroku office is). In August, I'll be moving to someplace with lower rent than San Francisco, but within North America (my job is so inflexible ;-) so I can pay off my $30,000 of student loan debt and $12,000 of combined medical and credit card debt more easily. Given my constraints, there are a lot of places in North America to choose from -- specifically, all of them, except San Francisco. Optimizing for relative proximity to people and places I want to visit, proximity to a city with population 100,000+, culture, and low cost of living, I'll probably be looking for a 2 or 3-bedroom rental house in Reno, NV, where I predict I'll be paying about a quarter of the rent that I would pay for a similar place in the Bay Area. Once my debt is paid off (barring anything unexpected, in 6-9 months), I'll probably move back to the Bay Area, but then, who knows what will happen?

It seems that housing is generally "available now", so rather than trying to find a place to live in advance, I'll probably just get in my car at the end of the month and go try to find someplace to live, then return for my furniture and stuff (currently in storage) and my cats (currently staying with a friend in Napa). I'm aspiring to adopt two more cats, assuming I can find a rental place that will allow four cats (and crossing my fingers that my other cats don't hate them).

I would love to hang out with people in the Bay Area while I'm still here, but since I lent my car to somebody for the month to avoid paying half my rent again for a parking space, preferably someplace transit-accessible. I've also been focusing on first-week-of-work panic and finishing-an-article panic, and thus have made zero plans for that yet.

Saying No

May. 1st, 2014 10:44 am
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
In the past week, I had two talk proposals accepted: one for LambdaJam in July, and one for Open Source Bridge in June. I ended up declining to give both of them. This was hard for me.

I like giving talks. I don't have any stage fright. I've been told I give good talks. In my field, good speakers aren't very common, but the few good talks I've seen make me want to go do the same thing, in a way that almost nothing else does. I like the performance aspect of it, and it makes being at a conference make sense (I always feel vaguely awkward when someone asks me if I have a talk and I say no.)

What I don't like is preparing talks. I don't see a way around this. It's not like anyone else can do it for me. I think it's because of how feedback works -- I get feedback at the very end, after I give a talk, but it's very hard to get any feedback on intermediate products, and when something isn't closely coupled with my job, I don't really have an audience for a practice talk. Even if I do a practice talk, that's after I've prepared all the slides. I think to make the process less painful, I'd have to have a way to get feedback a lot earlier.

I proposed something pretty ambitious for OS Bridge, which is a hands-on Haskell tutorial. I would have to prepare the tutorial materials -- code with "fill in the blank" pieces -- from scratch. Likewise, for LambdaJam, I proposed a talk on a project I've been wanting to do (a "traveling salesman" approximation implementation in Haskell -- for fun, applied perhaps to a data set like the list of Hosteling International hostels in the US), with the idea being that the talk would give me motivation to actually implement it. But now that I would actually have to write all that code in less than 2 months, it doesn't look as appealing to me.

I think what I need in my life now are things to do in my free time that I can do with other people and that don't feel like work. Unfortunately, preparing talks doesn't meet either criterion: I have to do it alone, and it feels like work. And I can't do it on the clock, since it's related to my job but the talks aren't about what I actually do at work (since not all of it is open-source).

In the past, giving talks has seemed like a way for me to get bonus points at work, but the last talk I gave -- at Open Source Bridge a year ago -- backfired in that sense. My manager (at my previous job) complained that I "gave too many talks" (because I gave one talk in two years) because I spent the two weeks before the talk preparing slides and not doing much else. That experience discouraged me from giving more talks in the future. Since what the talks would be on would be only loosely related to my job, I don't necessarily expect negative feedback for giving them (since all the prep would be in my copious free time), but I don't expect it to be a big positive, either.

So the calculation I did was that preparing the talks was likely to give me more anxiety than satisfaction. And in fact, that would still be true even if I did only one of the talks. So I declined. I still feel like I'm passing something up, but the cost of accepting the opportunity seems too high for me right now. Of course, that could change in the future, and there will always be more conferences.

I still plan to go to Open Source Bridge -- there are too many good talks not to, I'll be passing through Portland anyway, and it's a great chance to see a lot of friends. I don't know what the future holds for me, career-wise, so right now, putting in extracurricular effort to be more established in the tech community doesn't seem like a good investment: I don't know if I'll be in this community in two years. It's uncomfortable to be in this liminal state, but I think the way to deal with that discomfort is to experiment with actually being nice to myself and giving myself enough time to satisfy needs that don't have to do with writing code.
tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (public transportation)
Saturday, four days ago, I flew from Vancouver to Minneapolis, spent my layover chatting with my dear friend ADB who had come out to the airport to meet me, and then flew to London on a red-eye. (But not before ending my 31-month streak of never getting either groped or pornoscanned in an airport; there was only one checkpoint open at MSP that Saturday night, with only a scanner option. I had been planning to opt out if that happened, but at the last minute I decided I didn't want a random cis person touching me. In any case, I couldn't think of a better reason to end the streak.)

Sunday, I arrived in London feeling like a zombie, since I'd only slept for about four hours on the plane, if that. Plan A had been to go to a coffee shop for a few hours and noodle around pointlessly on the Internet, I mean catch up on work, I mean... In any case, my laptop was almost dead and the power adapter I'd bought at the airport wasn't grounded, which of course I didn't notice when buying it, in my zombified state. So I collected all my belongings and headed down the road to the Superdrug, where I bought another adapter. Nope, that one wasn't grounded either, and so I embarked on a long, long journey to the Apple store in Covent Garden to get the "world traveler kit". I ended up finding out just how long it can take me to find the Covent Garden market starting out from the Covent Garden tube stop (answer: a long time), and by the time I got back to the coffee shop where I'd planned to meet [livejournal.com profile] jasonelvis, he was waiting there.

After dinner with Jason, Tracey, and their adorable three-year-old, we all agreed that I'd want to collapse... except instead, Jason and I stayed up for a while talking about Debra. I was able to put my tiredness aside, because getting time to talk about her with someone who knew her the way I did was really important to me and meant a lot.

Monday, we accumulated more people and headed out to Bath in various cars. We went to a park and (unexpectedly) saw hot air balloons take off, then Indian take-out food was had and silly TV was watched.

And then, Tuesday, the big event. Prefaced by hat shopping with the three of us guys in our little entourage, since we'd been told that Debra wanted the funeral to reflect her Jewish heritage, though it wouldn't be entirely traditional. So part of that was that the men would cover their heads, and the women would too if they wanted to. That was fine, but none of us had hats. Then it turns out to be difficult to find a funeral-appropriate hat in May, but the clearance rack at Debenhams saved the day.

Fully equipped with hats, we drove the 45 minutes to Bristol and got to the chapel and cemetery, in South Bristol, a bit early but not too early. I met various people who I'd only known from their LiveJournal comments before, and before we knew it, we were being called in for the service. The opening music, "Good Morning Starshine", let us know that this wasn't going to be an entirely traditional funeral. Debra wasn't a traditional person, so that was appropriate.

There were several eulogies, including one delivered by Jason, which captured the playful, caring, bum-joke-loving Debra who I knew. But the moments I remember most clearly were actually the music: Kate Bush's "Feel It" in the middle, and Lemon Jelly's "Space Walk" at the end. Someone had posted a link to "Space Walk" on Debra's Facebook wall soon after she died, and I listened to it in my apartment. Hearing it again at the end of the service took me back to that confused, surreal state.

We milled out to the grave site, which was facing out on a hillside with a really nice view of the river and the green hills beyond. I thought to myself that maybe someday, years from now, I would have some reason to be back in England again, and I would rent a bike and ride from Bristol up to the cemetery; it would be a nice ride. And they laid her in her grave, in a wicker casket, which seemed very fitting.

A group of us went to a pub nearby for lunch afterward, and comics that Debra had been involved in making got passed around; I got to look at some I hadn't seen before. Then we headed to Debra's house to pay our respects to the family and such friends as were still there. Talking to Debra's mother and stepfather, I found myself struggling for words; I found it hard to explain what Debra and I were to each other, and resorted, as so many queer folks do, to the language of "friends". Maybe it's something to do with that whole queer thing of not being able to assume there's a framework your relationships will fit into; maybe it's something to do with how none of it really makes sense if you can't assume the other person understands the notion of deep, meaningful, partially computer-mediated relationships. Probably some of both.

Debra's last LiveJournal post was about hummus. There are worse things one's last LiveJournal post could be about. Or rather... the last one I can see; due to me moving from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth, I'm no longer able to see a lot of her posts that I was able to see before, which is a little sad; I would have liked to re-read her posts from around the first time we met in person, especially.

And then the next morning, Jason did what only a true friend would do and drove me to the airport bus stop at 5:45 in the morning, and eventually I made it back to Vancouver, a place I can't lay any permanent claim on.

"well, it could be love
Or it could be just lust but it will be fun
It will be wonderful"

tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)

Brain Hacks

Almost a year ago, a friend and I had an offhand email exchange that led to me saying I wanted to write a blog post about what I've discovered so far in re: managing myself and getting myself to do things in a way leading to more happiness for myself. These tips apply to both work and personal goals (whether it's a hobby, household maintenance, making art, or keeping up friendships); I suspect for many people like me, the lines between can be blurry.

"Time management" is the best phrase for what this post is about, I suppose, though it's a phrase that has bad connotations for me (as I'll explain later). Though it's less succinct, I could also say it's a post about how to hack your brain in order to get what you want. (Are you not your brain? It's been a while since I took sophomore philosophy, but to a very rough approximation, I'm going to assume each of us is made up of communicating subprocesses that sometimes cooperate and sometimes conflict. An example is when part of you knows you have to get up for work at 7 AM tomorrow and that you need 8 hours of sleep per night if you're not going to feel awful, but you stay up until 2 AM looking at cat macros anyway, beccause another part of you needs to be soothed with something silly and familiar.) I could also describe it as self-organization or as being your own project manager. I suspect a lot of people know what I mean, though, and it certainly hasn't gotten any easier to deal with distractions and focus on what's important now that lots of us have the Internet next to our butts all day and night.

I feel a bit silly giving advice on self-organization, because I still feel pretty disorganized and that I'm pretty inefficient about how I do a lot of things. But this post isn't really advice so much as my notes on a collection of ongoing experiments. If these notes give you some ideas you can use, great! If not, well, science isn't always useful.

So here's what I've learned about getting things done. I only because willing to learn about it in past 5-6 years or so. That was about when I read the book Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen; it wasn't super helpful to me (partly because of its orientation towards using physical file folders rather than a computer, but maybe there is an updated edition now), but I did take away three good points from it:

  1. Keeping one's email inbox zero -- the book may even have been talking about a literal physical inbox, but it's the same zero. The author says that whenever you have an item in an inbox, that's something screaming out for your attention, and it causes anxiety because you don't know what the next step is towards addressing it. That's certainly true for me. So I've made more of an effort than I did before I read the book to keep email not in my inbox, and, if something is complicated, to make a to-do item to address is as opposed to just leaving it in my inbox. To-do items are better than emails in my inbox since they're attached to a particular day, if not a particular time (more about this later).
  2. GTD talks about knowing what the next step is rather than just having a huge, vague item on your to-do list; and also identifying the next step anytime you stop working on a given project to go rest or to work on something else. For example, if my to-do list says "start working on rustpkg", I will put that off, because it's a huge task and I don't know where to start. If it says "write a unit test for the install command", that's a much more approachable step, and will probably lead to more work beyond just that one little sub-task. I could make the first step even more specific than that, but get the idea.
  3. This is a bit like the first point, but: GTD talks about the importance of writing everything down. I'm still working on this, but it's one of the major principles that has allowed me to become a more functional person. I don't know if my memory is unusually bad, I just know I forget things if I don't write them down. This applies to both week-by-week schedules and, sometimes, just to sequences of tasks I do regularly. For example, a year or two ago I made a list of everything I do to get ready in the morning, and another one of everything I do before I go to bed at night (the latter one starts something like "take meds, brush teeth, use neti pot...", though actually I've even broken up some of those into more steps). This is because I noticed that I would forget to do things, as well as put off getting ready for bed because there were too many things to do and it was easier to be on the computer. It seems silly, but just having these lists has helped me a lot when it comes to going to bed when I'm actually tired (as opposed to staying up late because I'm too tired to coordinate getting to bed) as well as not sitting around for hours in the morning doing absolutely nothing because again, thinking about getting dressed and ready is overwhelming.

I'm pretty sure I have some sort of executive function issues; when people who are on the autism spectrum talk about executive function issues, it strikes a chord with me (though I've never been diagnosed with autism and many other aspects of being autistic don't seem to be things I've experienced), though I've never been formally diagnosed. I was provisionally diagnosed with inattentive ADD once, as an adult; unfortunately, the meds had no effect on me and so to me, there isn't much point knowing whether I have ADD, anxiety that acts like ADD, or something else. In any case, maybe it doesn't matter (for me), if I can find the right accommodations to make for myself and learn to be okay with making those accommodations for myself, with taking specific action to make things easier that might already be easier for a lot of people. But so what -- I'm not a lot of people.

While I'm talking about diagnoses, I'll also note that a lot of anxiety and maladaptive coping mechanisms come from having been treated very badly in the past. It's helpful to talk about these past experiences, but at least for me, that on its own doesn't make me able to function as an adult. I want to say this in as simple words as possible: I think the story that is often told about depression and anxiety as "chemical imbalances" is wrong or at least misleading. There is no doubt some amount of truth to it (though possibly not as much as we've been thinking) but the neat, tidy story that such illnesses are the result of random brain misfirings shifts blame from a society that enables systematic abuse of children and everyone else placed in a position of lesser power, onto individuals who can be deemed as defective and disregarded. Politically, I would feel dishonest if I didn't mention this, but on a pragmatic, day-to-day-survival-so-you-can-pay-the-rent-and-not-get-fired level, at least sometimes I have to occupy a mode where I'm just working with what I have.

How To Do Things

So here's what I've figured out about how to do things. I present it here not assuming that it will necessarily work for anyone else, but in the hopes that some of it might be adaptable or at least inspiring. I certainly wouldn't want to try to generalize, since then I would just be making stuff up, so I'm sticking to what specifically has worked for me. Read more... )

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Debra, aka [livejournal.com profile] badasstronaut, was the first person I added as a friend on LiveJournal who I didn't already know, back in 2002. This was mainly on the basis of both of us having Nina Paley in our interests list. I met her in person when I visited her in Bristol, England in 2006 while I was interning at Microsoft Research. Unexpectedly, we became lovers. That didn't last (living on different continents will do that, though for a brief period, things were such that I actually considered moving to the UK), but we always remained friends. She visited me once when I lived in Portland, and I visited her twice more in Bristol; the last time I saw her was a year ago when she was visiting New York City with her wife Kris, and I flew out to NYC to see them.

Debra was creative, intellectually probing, and very funny. She made indie comics and was an educational developer and university lecturer; in that order (at least as I saw her). Unfortunately, most of her comics don't seem to be online, except for a few. She started out as a hairdresser before she went to grad school, and at one point planned to write a Ph.D dissertation on hairdressers' professional culture (but, like me, she never finished her Ph.D). When she lived in New Zealand, she also did feminist and other political activism.

She liked robots and bunnies and had a great sense of style. One of the times with her that I remember best was when I visited her after going to ICFP in Edinburgh, in September 2009; we went to a bed and breakfast in Hay-on-Wye for two nights and went kayaking and, one night, sat in the pub attached to the B&B drinking scrumpy (or at least I did) and listening to some guys literally talk about how to "make Britain great again".

There's so much more, but nothing I could say would be adequate. For the past year I've known that Debra was ill with breast cancer; she didn't seem to want to talk about it much, preferring to go on as normal, so I generally didn't press the issue. We did exchange emails on the subject of top surgery; rather than having a mastectomy with breast reconstruction, she wanted to have a male chest reconstructed so that she could present a more genderqueer appearance. She wrote to me back in September 2012:
Strangely, I am quite excited about it! It's funny - some women I've
talked to say they'd be most worried about the hair loss (what???) and
losing their bust. Those were the least of my concerns, and if I come
through all this successfully I feel I will be able to celebrate with
new clothes and almost a new persona. And I might take up running...

I will miss her so much. I know that her wife Kris and her mother took good care of her over the past year, and she wasn't lacking for support. Even so, I wish I'd been a bit more in touch with her instead of assuming she would prefer to be left alone.

This is the one picture of her I could find that I took (I have more, but am disorganized with my data), on that trip to Hay-on-Wye in 2009):
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (work)
I'm starting a job as a software engineer on the Research Team at Mozilla (where I interned from March to September this year), on January 2, 2012. I'll be working mainly from the San Francisco office and living in San Francisco (though I don't have housing yet -- let me know if you know of someone looking for a roommate or lease-taker-over!), spending some percentage of my time in the Mountain View office.

My term of employment concludes at the end of March, so anything is possible after that. Goat farming? Bicycle messengering? Returning to grad school, this time with mace? Or proving myself irreplaceable? Stay tuned...

What's in store for me in the meantime? Well, it probably looks a lot like this:


(I'm the gray and white furry one with the green eyes.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I was copying files hither and yon in conjunction with having a new computer. While watching filenames scroll by, I realized that my source disk contained a backup of the computer I used between 1995-1999; I hadn't been sure where that backup had been hiding.

The metadata on those old files was still intact, stunningly enough, and all the custom icons I had painstakingly attached to my folders when I was a 15-year-old Mac user with too much free time were still there. And if I can figure out how to open Microsoft Word 5.1 documents (strange to think of a time when I didn't know LaTeX), I can read my college application essays. I have no idea when I am ever going to re-read those transcripts of Unix Talk sessions from days long past, but I wouldn't dream of deleting them.

Some advice: don't re-read emails from the dead after midnight. It might make you want to cry.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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