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And the Clocks Keep Unwinding

I haven’t prepared a “real” post for this week. Instead, I offer you an excuse, an idea and an interesting problem — unrelated, but in that order.

I’m awful at writing exams.

I wrote my Flex 3 with AIR ACE exam on Friday.

I passed :)

Unfortunately, this meant devoting every ounce of my being for about six days to memorizing the entire API studying intensely. I’m still catching up on all the stuff I was actively ignoring last week, which includes “writing awesome blog posts” and “hunting for bears“.

We need more double-clicking.

This is something we take for granted, but as an input mechanic it’s pure genius. How can we make one button do two completely different things? Have it react differently based on the frequency of its presses. It literally doubles the usefulness of the left mouse button. Why haven’t we made this optimization on other controls? The only other case I can think of is how my iPhone thoughtfully fills in a period if I double-tap the space bar.

In particular, I’d like to see more double-key presses. I would love for my computer to pull up a shutdown prompt if I double-press my escape key. This is a key I rarely use anyway*, and it would save me the trouble of remembering whether I’m in Win7, XP, OSX or Ubuntu, not to mention which sub-menu they tucked it under. What about tab? Two tab presses could bring up Apple’s exposé, the Windows visual window manager du jour, or some experimental cube animation in linux. Maybe double-backspace deletes an entire word; and don’t even get me started on the power we’ve yet to unlock in our function keys.

Our input devices hold so much more potential than we’re using, we just have to think like the guy that invented the double-click. (Wikipedia currently credits this to the original Apple Lisa).

An unsolvable problem.

A common practice among interviewers in the high-tech circle is to ask the candidate for a solution to an unsolvable problem. Such problems are intended to drill down to the problem-solving skills a good candidate will hopefully have, and present an excellent opportunity for the interviewee to explore creative solutions, show attention to detail, and often demonstrate a sense of humour. I’ve always found these very interesting to answer, and today I propose one of my own:

Wikipedia will reject new page submissions about people who are deemed not notable enough to warrant their own entry. How could we find the most notable person that is not yet listed in Wikipedia?

This is something I’ve thought about a bit on and off, but if you have any insightful answers (practical or not) I’d love to hear them.

* I have been known to mash escape in vii and its gang of dangerous-to-abbreviate ‘CLI text editors’, where a double-escape mechanism would obviously be annoying. Maybe this would drive me to learn how to use the damned things properly?

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New Page: Why I Blog

When I have something I want to write about that I’d like to be able to keep up-to-date, I put it on its own page rather than a new post. The first such page was a rundown of what I do with OCRI to help introduce high-school students to careers in high-tech, and today I’m adding another one — why I blog. Go check it out! The idea is that these pages will change over time, and I want a slightly more formal space to keep them so that I can make sure they always reflect how I currently feel.

In other news, today is my birthday! You don’t have to get me anything, but if you really want to make my day here is something small you can do: Think of your favourite post on this blog, and email me or leave a comment below to tell me what it is. Simple, right? But it would really mean a lot.

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I’m Engaged





(click image to enlarge)
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One Post Per Week

Starting today, this blog will officially be updated on a weekly basis.

This is a small step up in terms of how often I’m posting now, but it’s something I want to try. After all, it’s a new year and that’s a great time to experiment with new ways of doing things — as I’m not an experienced blogger (at all) I haven’t really nailed down any good content-producing habits, and I think the best way for me to do so will be to get into a bit of a groove by sticking to a fixed schedule.

To help me hit my weekly deadline, I’ve developed the following chart, which is posted on the wall next to my desk:

The first column lists the first letter of each month, and the numbers on each row are the dates of all Mondays in the corresponding month for 2010. So the first row, for example, shows that the Mondays in January fall on the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th. These are all the days on which there will be a new post. When I have a new post done and set to publish automatically, I’ll mark the matching Monday square in green. When I miss a day (though the plan is that I won’t) I’ll mark the matching square in red. This way I’ll have a very clear history of when I did and didn’t meet my deadline.

The purpose of this table is purely motivational. Having it next to my desk gives me a noticeable reminder if I still haven’t finished the next Monday’s post, and marking past Mondays in green (for done) and red (for missed) will give me a very frequent reminder that I’m either doing well or falling behind.

Are you trying anything new this year? Would a visual aid help you stay on track?

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My Involvement with OCRI

I do some volunteer work helping teach high school students about software development through the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation. It’s very rewarding work, and something people ask me about a lot. Taking a page from Chris Brogan’s post about providing stock answers I’ve set up a permanent page about what I do with OCRI. If you’re curious about how the program works or what I do in particular, go have a look.

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Happy Holidays!

I haven’t prepared a Christmasesque post, which is odd for me because I love the holiday season. I’ll surely have something festive to offer next year, but in the mean time this is my favourite holiday-themed post of 2009 from the rest of the web:

http://www.colourlovers.com/blog/2009/12/21/the-most-colorful-part-of-the-holidays

I hope that everyone is having a fun and relaxing holiday, even if only for a day or two. If you have a cool Christmasesque link to share (or you’re just dying to call me out on making up my own adjective for Christmas) leave a comment below.

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Update Much?

Wow has this ever been a busy month. I dare say this was the busiest November of my entire life. I’ll be resuming my steady stream of Cutting-Edge Blog Posts and Tech World Commentary soon, but as filler an insightful look into what’s been keeping me busy, I present you with a run-down of some of the more notable things I’ve been up to lately:

Google Wave Hack-a-thon

I’ve been pretty quiet about Google Wave since it came out, which is odd because it’s a technology I fully endorse (ok, I did have one post about the invites). The Ottawa Wave Group was kind enough to hold their own “WaveCamp” hack-a-thon with an open invitation to local technophiles. It was a great time and really strapped my boots for the wonderful world of Wave development. They have posted an event wrap-up for the curious and there are some slides there I’d definitely recommend checking out if you want to start developing for Wave but don’t know how/where to begin.

I’ll definitely have a post or two about Wave in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled and your RSS reader at the ready.

Bringing High Tech to High School

I’m involved with something called the Ottawa High School Technology Program. I should really have a full post about what the program is and what I do there (I’ll make a point to have one up soon) but the jist of it is that enrolment in high-tech fields at the college/university level in Ottawa has been way down in recent years, which is worrisome for a city that has been nicknamed Silicon Valley North. Seeing this problem, a number of local high-tech companies and organizations got together and started cooking up ideas for how to increase enrolment, and the result was a program that takes industry representatives (such as myself) and sends them to local high schools to help students develop real, working software for the XO laptop. It’s always great to see what the students are capable of with a little guidance, and every semester we’re amazed with the results.

November is a significant month for the program because at this point the fall semester students have been ramped up on the XO and its target audience, branched into small groups, and started on actual development. It’s a very fun time for them and for those of us involved, but also very busy when added to an already packed work schedule!

And then there’s my Day Job

After a few extra-busy weeks, the project I’m working on at my nine-to-five has finally hit private beta. While it’s not something I can really talk about (at least not until it goes GA) nor something that would be of much interest to most of you (it’s a very niche product) it does feel good to hit such a major milestone after many months of hard work.

With things cooling off a bit at work, I should be able to get some neat posts up soon. A lot of neat things have been traversing the net the past few weeks, and I’m bursting with arguably valuable input.

Distraction through Gaming

Busy times call for stress relief, and I often rely on gaming to fill those ever-crucial relaxation needs. Here’s a list of what I’ve been into lately:

  • Typewar is a fantastic game that teaches you how to identify popular typefaces. We need more games with this blend of education and fun.
  • Ka-Glom is actually the first game I’ve ever kept
    on my iPhone. It’s an extremely fun and highly addictive tetris/bomberman mash-up made by local mobile gaming firm Magmic. Apparently it’s also widly popular in Japan.

  • Left 4 Dead 2 was released a couple of weeks ago, and on time no less. Some of you may remember the train-wreck of a release that brought us the demo, which we can all learn a few things from. It’s an absolutely wild time, but by now I’m sure you know whether or not this game is for you.
  • Torchlight is something I’ve heard fantastic things about. I haven’t actually gotten around to playing it yet, but I absolutely will as soon as I can spare some time for it.

What’s been Keeping You Busy?

I’d love to hear about it; leave a comment!