Mar 012013

Shoulder mechanics seem to be one of those topics that people don’t talk about much, but any time I mention the issues I have with my shoulders (too much time at the computer each day) I’m by no means the only one affected. I’ve been doing Pilates for years, which has helped, but that’s only a couple of hours a week, which leaves lots of time during the rest of the week to undo the good work.

I spent a bit of time sitting at my desk, figuring out in which position my shoulders and wrists would be happiest. I talked to the people at ErgoCanada (they’re very helpful and very knowledgeable and I recommend talking to them if you’re based in Canada) and ended up with a split keyboard that can be placed in a number of configurations, the Kinesis Corporation Freestyle2 (Amazon US link). The first few days using it were a little weird, while I got used to having to use the recommended hand for each letter, and getting used to the placement of the backspace and delete keys. I played around with the configurations, starting with the splayed configuration, but at the moment I use the straight configuration with some 10cm between the two halves. The spacing I use varies a little depending on what I’m doing, if it’s mostly writing or a lot of mouse work. The keyboard is quiet, with a good feel; the keys are light but stable. There’s also a bunch of accessories to tilt the keyboard in various ways, or enable a wider gap between the halves, but I haven’t seen the need for those yet. One day I may get the Mac version to go with my laptop; since it splits into two pieces it does pack a lot smaller for travel than a regular keyboard.

As well as using the keyboard, I’ve tried to get into the habit of doing small simple shoulder rolls on a regular basis, to keep the ball aligned better in the socket. There are lots of web sites that explain versions of how to do these but most seem to be aimed at bodybuilders; this page from the Yoga journal is more gentle than most.

These two things, put together, seem to be helping. Either or both would be worth thinking about if you have shoulder or arm issues and spend hours at a computer each day.

Sep 122012

It happens every year – the slides are due for the XML Summer School, and some people have them done early, and others don’t. Sometimes it’s because Life Happens – family members fall ill, bosses demand more hours, other people on whom you’re depending are late. Sometimes it’s because you hit the logjam or just can’t get started. (By which I mean me, not just you). The same deadline dilemma applies to other projects, of course; any task that takes more than 10 minutes, and sometimes even those, just Don’t Get Done.

Getting other stuff done first can be useful to clear the decks, as it were. Structured procrastination can be a good way to get other necessary tasks completed in an effort to hold off the really important, urgent, frighteningly looming task. But eventually you (by which I mean me) actually do have to start working on the project, have to find the motivation from somewhere.

A couple of years ago I discovered the Pomodoro technique. When I remember to use it, it solves the problem in a number of ways.

The principle of work for 20 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, repeat until done is simple. It means I can give myself a reward at the end of the 20 minutes (stand up, stretch, tidy up the desk, get a glass of water). I take notes on interesting ideas or items that might side-track me, that I can get back to after the 20 minutes are up (or even later), rather than following them during the work time. And after 20 minutes of doing something on the project, the momentum has built up and I want to keep going, want to finish what I’m working on.

Nice side-effects – my office is tidier (I often do that during the 5-minute break), and I think my work is better because I haven’t got side-tracked. Often which end of the elephant you start with is less important than getting started – you can always start at another end in the next work chunk. Making myself take a break for 5 minutes every 20 helps me pace myself. I stretch, stand up, breathe more deeply than when hunched over the computer screen, and feel less tired at the end of the day. I often also have ideas during the 5-minute break that help solve whatever issue I’m working on, or make it better.

Unfuck Your Habitat uses the same principle – either 20 minutes on, 10 off (the 20/10), or 45 minutes on and 15 off (45/15), for cleaning, study, or whatever needs to be done. The tagline that speaks to me the most? IT’S 20 MINUTES, NOT A LIFETIME COMMITMENT. (Their caps).

Notes: I don’t use the full pomodoro system with review and I don’t track interrupts. Maybe I’d get more benefit if I did, but I don’t feel the need.

Tools: you can get by with a kitchen timer, but you need one that does both times (20/5, 20/10, or whatever combination). I use XorTime on Windows, Pomodoro Desktop on the Mac (which appears to have been discontinued), and Pomodroido (minus all the leaderboard stuff) on Android. I turn off the ticking sound on all of them as I find it annoying and distracting.

Now I just have to remember to use this technique more often. I wish I could use it in hours-long phone calls and meetings!

Apr 032012

There is some amusing spam out there, that makes me smile. These ones are from people trying to write idiomatic English, but getting some of the words wrong, words that are synonyms in other contexts but not used in these. I also notice the trend away from extolling the virtues of whatever it is they’re peddling to bare-faced flattery with an embedded link.

Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favourite justification appeared to be on the web the simplest factor to have in mind of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed at the same time as other people think about issues that they just do not understand about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , folks can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thank you

There are more, but that’s the pick of this week’s crop.

Apr 282011

I know a couple of people who are on the pessimistic side of the Peak oil hypothesis, and a couple who are equally fervent in their optimistic belief (the idea being that we’ll always find more and/or technology will save the day). As is my wont, I’m somewhere in the middle, thinking we’re likely to find more oil and natural gas, but that it should still be conserved, at least until we have more progress on the various replacement technologies. Someone (I forget who) recommended I read James Howard Kunstler’s book “The Long Emergency” (Amazon US link, Amazon CA link). It’s an interesting read, albeit a little dated (it was published in 2006). He tends to skim over some issues such as the importance of the transition from lots of oil to little oil, and the writing does tend to the breathless (although it’s far better in the book than on his blog). I’d recommend at least skimming through it if you’re interested in the issues, maybe borrow it from the local library as I did.

What the book did accomplish was to make me think about the consequences of a world in which oil is much more expensive than it is now. It doesn’t need to be the case that we can’t find any more; a serious insurrection in Saudi Arabia that caused major disruptions to the flow of oil is not out of the question these days, and China is using an ever-increasing proportion of the world’s oil, which will automatically result in price increases.

Some of the questions are easy to ask: What happens if the cost of shipping cheap goods from China trebles, or quintuples, or worse? What happens to commuters when the cost of getting to work is multiplied by 3, or 5, or 10? As the cost of heating goes up, how many more people will die of the cold in unheated, uninsulated, houses? What happens to the cost of food (a large factor of the Tunisian uprising) as the cost of the fuel rises, given that the Green Revolution that saved so many lives depends on cheap petroleum-based fertilisers?

The price of oil hasn’t gone below $50 per barrel for the last 5 years (according to We don’t know what’s next: it may hover around $100 per barrel for a while, or leap to a much higher level; either way there should be at least some discussion of what oil is best used for, what we can substitute other technologies for, and an investment in those technologies before we need them. There are options already for power generation, even if most of them also have issues, but there seems to be less focus on food and transport (both people and goods), and if anything, there seems to be an ever-increasing use of petroleum-based plastic materials. I don’t see much productive discussion around these issues – anyone got good pointers that don’t veer off too much into apocalyptic fervour?

Aug 272010

Like many people I know, the dichotomy between doing and blogging is often resolved by more doing, and not so much blogging, especially with Twitter,, et al around for the quick asides. Time to craft a careful post is in short supply, especially sufficient time to craft a post that looks effortless.

But today one of my projects has finished one major phase so I’m taking some time. I’ve started working in healthcare, or more precisely, doing project management on a project basis for Alschuler Associates, involving lots of XML, lots of client discussions, and working with a distributed team across 3 timezones. It’s interesting, and complicated, and I still feel like I’m just getting started although I’ve been working on it for almost six months.

And it’s just as well those projects are in a slower spell, since in a little over a week the XML Summer School starts, for which I’m Course Director. Most of the prep work has been done, and soon the fun and learning start. I enjoy going each year, catching up on new technologies, learning more about the ones I’ve heard about before but haven’t had a chance to try out, catching up on what’s new in the world of XML. I didn’t make it to Balisage this year due to project commitments (see above); the XML Summer School makes up for that to some extent. And this year we’re in Oxford at the right time for the St Giles Fair, which makes for a change to the usual pub crawl.

Other projects are taking a back seat, unfortunately. There’s only so much time in the day, and so many interesting things to fill it with.

Jul 242010

Sometimes spam is amusing. Email address and actual links elided, but the rest is as it arrived in my inbox:

Thanks for your order, my email address

Did you know you can view and edit your orders online, 24 hours a day? Visit Your Account.

Order Information:

E-mail Address:  my email address
Order Grand Total: $ 97.99
Earn 3% rewards on your orders with the Amazon Visa Card. Learn More

Order Summary:
Order #: 	D99-2665292-8925183
Subtotal of items: 	$ 82.99
Total before tax: 	$ 29.99
Sales Tax: 	$ 0.00
Total for this Order: 	$ 47.99

The following item was ordered:
	Click here and see items, Price: $ 48.99
By: Click here
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

I particularly like the way none of the numbers bear any relationship to each other, except for ending in “.99”.

/* ]]> */