Just finished a battle against installing the necessary modules to get perl to parse RSS feeds. I've always hated doing stuff like this...getting the environment variables to point to the right place, being repeatedly given the finger by Make asking for dependent packages and having to climb back up the tree until I fulfill them all.
Several of the bløgs I read have pointed to this excellent piece by the typically excellent Paul Graham about the difference between the "manger's schedule" (which almost the whole world runs on) vs. the "maker's schedule". The article is definitely worth a read because the idea is very well expressed, but I'll boil it down to the essentials here so I can riff on it: "Managers" (and most of the world) run on a schedule broken down into hour long blocks, with frequent changes of activity (meeting A, then some emailing, then meeting B, etc). "Makers" (which Graham uses to mean writers and programmers, and to which I'd add practicing scientists — more below) instead want to work in large, half-day chunks with no interruptions. Meetings are the bread and butter of managers, but they are a disaster for makers because they not only use time, but also break the "flow" of creative thinking they require; a single meeting can destroy a whole aftermoon.
How does this fit into my life? Well, I'm basically transitioning from a maker to a manager now that I'm the PI of my own group. Instead of spending most of my days in 3-4 hour chunks of either coding or being deep in analysis, I am finding most of my days interrupted with at least a couple of meetings, which make it almost impossible to actually accomplish any "making". This realization is important, because I don't want to end up being only a manager of other makers. As scientists get promoted they tend to flow from making to managing, but different individuals succeed to different extents at maintaining a balance. Put another way, I want to keep spending a large fraction of my time with an xterm and an emacs buffer open, rather than my email client and a Word document (ugh).
I obviously have to spend a reasonable amount of time meeting with people, so how do I strike the balance I want? What Graham describes from his younger days, and what I've seen a lot of scientists do is basically work two full days every day: 9-5ish as a manager and then 9PM-2AM (or whatever) coding, analyzing data, or whatever. I'm not quite ready to work that much, so what I've resolved to do (we'll see how it goes) is to actually schedule half-day chunks into my calendar for "making" when I won't be free to accept meetings with anyone else. I'll close my door, not answer the phone, and focus on a project in that time.
I went downstairs to the paper shredder yesterday to shred some (incriminating) documents, but it wouldn't turn on. I looked to see if it had become unplugged, and discovered that someone had cut through the power cord at the plug, and the end was nowhere to be found.
Did the machine feed the cord to itself, using it's last gasp of electricity in self immolation? Or did somebody get really pissed off at the shredder and take an axe to its cable?
His Royal Highness, the Prince Andrew, Duke of York, came to visit the Sanger campus last week. He had previously developed an interest in the Institute when discussing it (among other things) at a meeting with our principal funder, the Wellcome Trust.
After arriving by helicopter he met with a variety of people, including an unscheduled detour to the cafeteria to say hello to people having lunch. His last agenda item was a "working lunch" with some of the young faculty, including yours truly. Pictured at left (courtesy of the WT photographer) is me being introduced (that's Sanger director Allan Bradley's ghost hand behind the Prince).
The Prince (Charles's younger brother for those who don't carefully follow the Royal Family) was very engaged and seemed legitimately interested in our scientific work. He's obviously a smart guy, and well practiced at conversing intelligently with experts on nearly any topic.
After Benoc mentioned it, I decided to see when I could take a look at the International Space Station in Cambridge (use the "Quick and easy sightings by city" dropdown on the right). Using my iPhone's built in compass (did you know I had a new iPhone?) to align myself, I set up a reclining lawn chair on the back deck and waited.
It was a partially cloudy night, and not fully dark at 22:52, but before long I saw the bright spot streaking overhead. I tracked it in my binocs for the six minutes it was passing, but generally couldn't make out much more than a bright smudge racing through the sky. Makes me want to take up astrophotography, except I live in a very cloudy part of the world.
There's a chess board in the hallway outside my office, and sometimes a couple of us will take a break from the day for a quick duel in le jeu d'homme qui pense. Of course we don't have all day to waste on this so I commented that we really needed a chess clock. Then it occurred to me that I very likely had one in my pants! I pulled out my trusty iPhone, went to the AppStore on the phone and 30 seconds later had a chess clock ($0.99) downloaded and activated.
For those of you in the UK, you may have seen the annoying Mazuma.com ads on TV. Essentially, you send your old cellphone in to them and they send you a check in return. I had a first-gen iPhone gathering dust after my recent upgrade (see below), so I decided to try it out.
I found out they would pay a remarkable £115 for the old model, so I requested the prepaid envelope, which arrived in about two days. I sent it in and literally got a confirmation email two days later and a check for the promised amount the next day! No hassle, exactly as they promised. I find it surprising they can sell on my phone for that much, but more power to them! Mazuma rocks.