Thu, 29 Oct 2009

On the back of the recent excellent retail experience at Niche Gift Shop I ended up donating 30 to the York Boxing Club & Young People's Fitness Centre, which has the right combination of focusing on local youth, promoting a positive message and having a way for me to donate money online, through the Charity Choice site. Keep up the good work, everyone!

Mon, 26 Oct 2009

I recently had a burning desire to obtain a sizeable amount of Mega Bloks for a game of Brik Wars. A little shopping around brought me to Niche Gift Shop, who had some good sale offers on some reasonably useful stuff, so I placed my order and the goods arrived very promptly indeed. So far so good...

Of course, that's just good service, what we've come to expect in the competitive world of online retail. But that wouldn't in itself make a remarkable story, that's the kind of thing that you almost always get with online purchases these days (although there was that mysterious case of tne Enterprise 128 that never showed up...). No, what makes this story different is that one of the sets that I received was only half there.

I catalogued the missing pieces and emailed the details back to Niche Gift Shop, thinking maybe I'd get some store credit to cover the incovenience. But no, what I actually got was two options, I could package it all up for replacement or they could send out the missing pieces. I opted to get the missing pieces sent, as that would be most likely to get the stuff here on time for the game.

What was even more unexpected was the email I got a couple of days later, once they'd got hold of the replacement set. They just sent the whole replacement set to me, at no extra cost, and asked that if I was feeling charitable, I'd do something nice with the spare pieces, maybe donate them somewhere. Well, it turns out that the spare pieces are really handy when you're playing some BrikWars and you want some random bits of scenery strewn about, so instead I'm going to donate twice the cost of the set to a local children's charity.

So, if you're looking for a rather good little online retailer from which to get a gift or two this coming wintertime-consumerfest, Niche Gift Shop is probably a reasonable place to start.

Wed, 21 Oct 2009

Had a lovely time this evening at the Leeds Girl Geek Dinner, in which we girl geeks get together for buffet food and inspiring talks of an evening. It's refreshing to discuss technology issues (this evening was Sarah Hartley on evolution of journalism and Christine Morris on video-blogging) in an environment where the gender ratio is way different to the usual techy geeky crowd. Much less chance of being overlooked, assumed out of the conversation or otherwise sidelined, and it feels really inclusive.

Of course, it's cool to talk about the issues of being a woman in a technical field, and there are certainly places to do that, and I remember some remarks in that direction at a previous Girl Geek Dinner, but it's never been the focus and it's doubly refreshing for that. It's so much nicer just to get straight to the geeking. Still, I wonder if the presentations were still a little ungeeky. I mean, the journalism presentation didn't tell me about the technology platform for Guardian Local and the video presentation didn't discuss the merits and drawbacks of Final Cut Pro, for example. That would have been super cool...

Tue, 20 Oct 2009

There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of a floppy-disk label that peels off all in one piece without leaving any crud on the disk. Also, the ache you get on your thumb when you've been scraping away at a label is something I could do with never having. It looks like I have a pile of stubbornly-labelled disks, though. I may look into alternative label-managing strategies...

Sun, 11 Oct 2009

So I installed Ubuntu 9.04 on the old laptop, nice and fresh. One thing that I noticed - and this is probably an X thing - is that installing a font file in ~/.fonts makes it available immediately, no need to log out or reboot or any faffing. Now, if only the applications could watch the list of available fonts for changes and update accordingly, that would be even more spiffy.

Sun, 04 Oct 2009

This is part of the Day Zero challenge. I have to make a piece of art out of household objects all of the same colour. This one is red.

Red Art

There's also an explanation of what I was trying to portray and the materials used. I reckon it worked out OK. I particularly liked the oven gloves, they gave the impression of windows on a building.

Sat, 03 Oct 2009

I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I've found that it leads to all sorts of trouble. Particularly this last couple of weeks I've noticed that I've gotten into a bit of a corner. The house is messy. I haven't vacuumed. I haven't cleaned, except the bathroom essentials. I haven't been keeping, up with washing up or emptying bins as much as I should. So what's going on?

The main issue at the moment is that I have a big deadline looming. I mean, the chances of failing to meet this deadline are slim - I've done the bulk of the work and I know I can write it up at a decent rate - but still, it weighs on my mind. So in my mind, I feel guilty if I'm spending significant time doing anything other than working towards that deadline.

Meanwhile, I'm still a perfectionist, and I want to devote the right amount of time to things and not do a half-arsed job. So when I think about doing something else, I always think of it as taking a significant amount of time away from the work towards the deadline. I want to give it whatever time it needs.

One way of resolving conflicts of priority is to identify importance and urgency, the classic Covey "First Things First" approach. While this is rather useful as a model, it isn't so obvious when you're worrying about things that are urgent and important because of a fixed deadline and things that are urgent and important because they always need doing. It also doesn't take into account my perfectionism, which will only let me devote time to that one pressing task. What I need is a way to allow myself to give a portion of the time to other important and urgent tasks.

My solution so far is to come up with a quick plan for the hours I want to spend on the large important task. If I keep plugging away at it constantly I'll just feel worse and worse, even though I might finish it a little sooner. Meanwhile, all the other stuff is neglected and seeing the mess around the place makes me feel like progress is really, really slow. So I pick out a set of tasks with the following characteristics:

  • Doable within the next few hours
  • All really important
  • Clear end objective to aim for
  • Relative priorities based on time needed to reach end objective
  • Easily interruptible

The plan only needs to cover 3 or 4 hours, like this example from this evening:

  • Main task: 75% of the time. Work on report. Aim to finish draft of section 5 in this time.
  • Secondary task: Wash up, dry and stack in the kitchen, then sweep and mop.
  • Third task: Put the washing on, and fold the stuff that's now dry.

This was a pretty useful first try, and I ended up getting a lot of this done. The tasks in the kitchen leave it feeling clean and neat and tidy, and they weren't onerous as I was able to spread them out through the evening. The washing task felt really good as none of the individual parts took very long but there was an obvious organising effect. And the report? Section 5 is coming along very well indeed - I've written most of the insightful parts and the rest is tracing items to one another, something that takes a little time but doesn't impact as much on the effectiveness of the end result.

Now, the real trick is to get to the point where I recognise that my perfectionism is getting in the way, and back off for a couple of minutes to really think things through. And do that subconsciously...


Also also, this site is now presented in glorious RSS-o-vision. Or at least, something that vaguely approximates it. Glance furtively at the feed for all the deliciousness.

Update: now with extra content options for those who want to read me in some kind of reader application. You can have:

I did this all with a custom blosxom plugin to extract content from the blog posts and format it as CDATA for the RSS stream. Dead simple in the end.

Fri, 02 Oct 2009

A quick note, perhaps only to myself, to make better use of the excellent Visual LaTeX FAQ, which is a document that contains formatting examples that are also hyperlinks to FAQ entries on the web that tell you all about typesetting that particular thing. It's kind of neat.