Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Stressful Month

The last four weeks have been rather stressful for me.

The week of November 20 - 26:

I was studying for my chemistry tests. I did some practice tests and found that some of the stuff looked unfamiliar. It was the opposite to Deja vu. Deja vu is the feeling you've experienced something before when you haven't actually experienced it. But with my studying I know I had seen that stuff before, and answered similar questions but it looked so new and unfamiliar. I didn't do very well on the practice tests. That got me more stressed.

The week of November 27 - December 3:

I wrote the chemistry midterm on Tuesday and the final exam on Thursday. When I walked out I thought maybe I got something in the mid seventies for a mark. The waiting game began. I figured it would take anywhere between one and two weeks for me to get my marks back to find out if I passed.

On the Friday there was a terrible ice storm. When I got home the power was out. Most of the family had gone to bed. Not everyone though. Enough people stayed up to create enough noise to keep me awake. And without electricity I can't turn on my noise-cancelers (fan(s) and dehumidifier) so I could hear all the noise upstairs. I couldn't sleep. So I went upstairs just to hang out. At about 10:30pm people got up from their naps and at 11:00pm the power came back on. So the family wasn't tired so they stayed up to clean the kitchen. Cleaning the kitchen involves dropping lots of things on the floor. Anything that happens on the kitchen floor is amplified in the basement. That includes dropping things on the floor, foot steps, the dog's toe-nails, chairs rolling, the dog lying down and his dog-tags hitting the floor, etc.

I started feeling a little tickle in the back of my throat. Both Robin and Bruce had terrible colds. I figured I was getting it. At 2:00am I went to bed.

On Saturday I woke up with a sore throat. It got worse throughout the day.

On Sunday I woke up without a voice. We were having a bunch of people over in the afternoon so I knew that sleep then would be a fruitless endeavor. I skipped church.

The week of December 4 - 10:

The cold from Hades. I have never missed school or work for a cold. I took three days off. I don't get sick days at work so taking time off is kinda a big deal.
I continued playing the waiting game, and wondering if my cold really was just a cold. Colds don't normally knock me out like that.
On Satuday I got my chemistry marks. I passed with flying colours.

The week of December 11 - 17:

Monday: Have my transcript sent from Athabasca University to Algoma University to prove that I passed chemistry.

The the waiting game for the transcript to arrive. As soon as Algoma gets my transcript they will write me a letter saying that I have completed all requirements for a B.Sc. in Computer Science and will receive my degree in the summer. Once I get that then I take it to HR, they put a date on my contract, I sign it, and I have a one year job.

Also, on Monday I came home to a flooded basement. That took time to clean up.

On Thursday we hear there's a new hiring freeze at work. I hope this doesn't effect me. I'm told it won't.

Thursday is also the first night of Bruce's art show. This required me to be out slightly later than I would normally like to be out. Of course, normally that wouldn't bother me at all, but when you're sick, even with a cold, you still want to get to bed earlier, not later.

On Friday my transcript arrives at Algoma. The guy at Algoma tells me he could probably have me the needed letter by the new year. I tell him that's a little late and I could loose my job over it. He gets me the letter Friday night.

I wait out the weekend so I can take the letter to HR first thing Monday morning.

Friday is also the second and final night of the art show. This involved a post-art show clean up, which got me home pretty late. I want some sleep!

The week of December 18 - 24:

On Monday I take the letter to HR. They tell me because there's a hiring freeze the paper work for my hiring has to go through a bunch of hoops. I might not have a job next week. I'm told it will take two days to find out.
It is now Wednesday at 3:30pm. I haven't heard back yet. As far as I know I only have a job for 2 more days.

I still have a bit of a cough, but I don't know if it's left over from the cold or if there's mold in the basement. It seems to be worse when I'm down there. I can't smell any mold or anything. I just seem to cough more down there. But that could all be in my head.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I have a problem. I procrastinate. I don't think I'm alone on this. I think lots of people procrastinate. Today's link is Procrastination: Ten Things To Know. Students know what I'm talking about. A student's room is always cleanest around exam time. It has been scientifically proven that without a doubt it is impossible to study for an exam if there is so much as a dirty sock carelessly placed out of sight under the bed, or if any pictures aren't hung perfectly straight.

Why, right now I'm procrastinating from studying for my chemistry tests next week. I have my midterm on Tuesday and the exam on Thursday. So I have a double whammy of procrastinationitis.

I find the problem with procrastination is that not only do you not get what you want/need to do done, but you don't get anything at all done.

When I say "you" I really mean "me."

Allow you to explain:

I always have a to-do list. I prioritize my to-dos. The top of the list is the highest priority, and the bottom of the list is lowest. Now, if the top of the list is something I want to do then that implies that I have nothing I need to do. That has happened about twice in the last 10 years. Being in school generally means there is stuff I have to do that I'd rather not do.

Most of the time my number one priority is something I'd rather not do, like study chemistry. Now, my number two item may be something I'd like to do, like read a good book. So my gut tells me "read the book!" but my head says "Don't do it! You have to study chemistry."

I can't, in good conscience, read the book when a higher priority item is waiting to be done. So I end up doing neither. I check my email every two minutes. I read articles on /. that I normally wouldn't read. I write useless introspective blog entries about things like procrastination. I look for new widgets for my Opera web browser. I clean my room. I watch shows I wouldn't normally take the time to watch.

So I do things that aren't even on the priority list, while the whole list suffers. That's the worst of it. I'd rather read the book at the expense of chemistry. Sure, my chemistry won't be done, but at least the book would be read.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How's the Weather Down There?

So I'm finally recovering from my cold now. My voice is slowly coming back. My nasal congestion is slowly clearing. So today my plan was to come home from work and finally take it easy, breath (somewhat) clearly.

Instead I come home and there's Bruce and Robin greeting me. They tell me "We're evicting you from the basement."


"There was a flood in the kitchen which caused it to rain in the basement."


I walk into the kitchen and the floor is all shiny. It looks like it had been cleaned. They lead me down to the basement. They have all these buckets set up collecting water. Sopping wet towels strewn all over the place. As I approached the bottom of the stairs to the basement I realized taking my socks off would be a good idea.

The rugs downstairs are all wet. My boxes of books are wet. Some of my papers are wet. My Pocket Idiot's Guide To Chemistry is wet. Thankfully the water missed my computer and other electronics, my guitar, and my bedroom cubicle.

The couch in the basement is two thirds wet and one third dry. So we spent the evening cleaning it all up, moving the drenched rugs upstairs to dry off. We have 4 or 5 fans running downstairs. The dehumidifier is working overtime.

It turns out that a connection in the pipe that takes water to the dishwasher corroded away. The pipe came undone, and wanter was just shooting out of the pipe into the cupboard under the kitchen sink, onto the kitchen floor, and down into the basement.

Right now we have a fruit fly infestation. They mostly hang out around the kitchen sink. In order to get rid of them we can't leave food lying out, or dirty dishes in the sink. So now there's a requirement to do dishes ASAP instead of letting them sit in the sink until whenever.

Now we're washing all the dishes by hand until we can get the pipe fixed.

That'll learn me to make plans to relax in the evening.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Emails (Part 2)

In my previous post I talked about the new communication world existing on the internet. Today I'd like to concentrate on Email and the way people use it.

In my line of work communication by email is essential and frequent. I always hear about people saying that they have hundreds of emails to get through. I say "Hundreds? How do you get so many?!"

They say "Well, most of that is spam."

I get plenty of spam at home, but manage to avoid a lot of it at work. I know a number of emails that come in aren't really emails to worry about. Someone might email me asking me to do something. So I do it, and email them saying "The job is done." Then they email me back saying "Thanks!" I don't have to worry about that email. It takes less than a second to read, then it gets deleted.

But I've noticed a trend in email communication that leads to my hypothesis about why people have so much darned email and I have such little. It's this:

People don't read their emails!

Allow me to explain how this leads to more emails.

I email person A with three questions, 1, 2, and 3. Two days later I receive a reply from A with an answer to question 1, and if I'm lucky, a half-answer to question 2. The half-answer is the sort of answer that shows that A didn't really read question 2, so they don't know what's really being asked. They see a couple of words, assume they know what's being asked, and answer that question. Then they leave question 3 completely ignored.

Then I get the email back. I read it and am satisfied with answer 1, confuzzeled by answer 2, and frustrated by the lack of answer 3.

So then I have to email them back clarifying q 2, and re-asking q 3. Then they reply with the answer to q 2. Q 3 is again ignored. At this point I feel like if I email them again with q 3 I'm just bothering them. After all, they already had two chances to answer q 3, but chose to ignore it. Maybe they had a reason to ignore them. It would be nice if they just said something like "I'm sorry, but I don't know the answer to q 3 at this time."

But its happened often enough, socially, in school, in most of the places I've worked that I think it's not just a small group of people who don't do well with email. The problem seems to be pretty wide spread.

I've also found that if there's any explanations that go with my emails that increases the odds of the recipient being confused. Example:

Take Joe, an imaginary software development group leader. This means he was probably once a computer programmer. As a computer programmer, it should go without saying he knows what "Windows" means, what "departmental software" is, what an "upgrade" is, etc. I shouldn't have to explain any technical terms to him. I should just say who I am, what I'm doing, what I want, and what I want from him.

My email to Joe:
"Hello Joe,

I'm working on the team that's upgrading the department's computers. Soon you'll be receiving a new computer with the latest version of Windows on it. Before we do that, we'll need to know what departmental software you require installed on your computer, as well as make backups of your 'My Documents' folder, as well as any other data you need transfered to your new computer.

Would you please provide me with a list of departmental software you need installed on your computer.

Also, would you please tell me how much storage space your My Documents folder uses?



A week later, Joe's reply:
"Hello Andrew,

I don't know why you want to wash my windows. I don't even have windows. I work in a cubicle in the middle of the floor. The nearest window to me is three rows over, and it just faces a brick wall. I don't even have a door, just an opening where the cubicle walls don't touch.

Hope this helps.

-=Joe, project leader in software development"

This bothers me on three counts:

  1. Now I have to write back, disguising my derision trying not to call Joe an idiot, or an illiterate. (Incidentally, Joe is the 17th person to write back with just as stupid a reply.)

  2. As a student I can't help but think "Why am I still a student, and how did this guy get to where he is?!" If that's the kind of knowledge and reading comprehension that gets someone to be a project leader in software development, then with my skills I should be taking over for Bill Gates when he leaves Microsoft. But I'm stuck as a student, making student wages, doing student work.

  3. He ignored my second question.

Of course, this means I have to write an email to Joe again, this time explaining in great detail everything he should know. I'll have to re-ask the second question, which will be ignored, so I'll have to ask again.

Now, it's reasonable to assume Joe handles most of his emails like this. So lots of people have to do what I now have to do with Joe. I have to write a total of three emails, when one should have sufficed. If Joe has a team of five people, and one supervisor, that's six more people he has to communicate with. In a given time period each of those people has to send him an email with two questions each, and he goes through the same process with each of them as he does with me. Where seven emails (including mine) should have been enough, 21 are actually required.

Joe now complains, along with his underlings and his supervisor, that he has too much darned email. He also might say "Since I get so many emails everyday I don't have time to read each word in every single email!" Yet, if he did read his emails all the way through, allowing for proper comprehension he could cut down his email load by a factor of three. That reduction would save more time than it would cost to read each email.

That's my theory.

Do you get a lot of emails every day? Are you reading all of each (non-spam) email, or are you just getting the gist of it? (Or more accurately, do you just think you're getting the gist of it?)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Emails (Part 1)

The ubiquity of the personal computer with the addition of the internet, and more specifically, the world wide web have changed the way we think about communication. Older methods of communication have not been replaced by new methods. Instead new methods still exist and will continue to exist for quite some time. Allow me to illustrate.

15 years ago few people had the internet in their homes. High Speed internet in the home was unheard of. Real time duplex communication was achieved with the telephone. Long term duplex communication was achieved with letters. Faxes were used, as were ham radios. Simplex communication came through newspapers, radio, and television. (Reciprocal communication came in through phone calls and letters to the editor.)

All of those options still exist, and still serve the same purposes. The web has introduced new methods of communication: instant messaging, chat rooms, email, VOIP, and blogs. (Some older methods of Simplex communication have found a new medium on the web, but remain ultimately the same.)

Email does not replace snail mail. Emails tend to be short, quick, informal, and not much special. Letters are still more formal, and a much bigger deal. Having a correspondence with a member of the opposite sex via email is nice, but it somehow doesn't reach half the excitement of a snail mail correspondence, especially when email is open to her as an option.

Instant messaging does not replace phone calls. Instant messaging only works when the other is there. And just because the other person is there doesn't mean you have to talk. The phone works when the other person isn't there. The phone rings and we run like Ben Johnson to get it because heaven forfend we might miss a call. Missing someone on an instant messaging service is no big deal.

Okay, okay. I admit VOIP might replace the traditional phone. But, again, that's simply a new medium for an old communication method.

Chat rooms aren't new to the internet, but certainly increased in scope and popularity with the net. Chat rooms have existed on BBSs for a while now.

And, of course there are blogs. Blogs are a new kind of journalism. Without blogs how could someone like me, with little spelling or grammatical talent, be published anywhere? And here I publish as often as I like! And you can give immediate feedback. And I can write about whatever I wish. One day I write about how the McQueen's car has broken down. The next day I might share a pet peeve. The next day I may expound on an implication of my observation that your average person can't assemble a home-stereo system when left to their own intellect.

Naturally some people and some companies are a little behind the times. Some don't have emails. Where I work instant messaging is a nay-nay, but email is a necessity. I think in today's day and age email is a necessity for most people living in an information oriented society. (In other words, I don't hold it against the Amazonian pygmy for not having an email address.) But some people still have trouble with dealing with email. I'll get to that in my next post.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm dying

Yes, I'm dying. Of what? The common cold.

"The common cold?!" you say.

I say "Yes. The common cold."

Allow me to explain.

As far as I know I don't have any immune system depressors like AIDS or the flu or anything, it's just the way things go.

(BTW: This blog post assumes I have passed chemistry and there will be no problems having the credit applied to my Algoma University transcript in time for me to get bridged in at work without loosing my benefits for the next six months. If that doesn't happen, then don't worry. I'll survive. I'll be here for quite some time.)

When I was five years old my mother put me on a big yellow bus and sent me off to school. That was 23 years ago. And ever since then there has never been a time when I did not have school to look forward to. For the next twelve years I looked forward to graduating from high school. Then I went to college. But then I failed out and had to start college over again. Meanwhile I took a year off and did manual labour in Toronto. Then I returned to college and have been in school ever since.

Mind you, only the first four years after my year off was I a full time student. I tried my hand at aviation for another year. Then I switched into Computer Engineering Technology. That was a three year program. After that I started working at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. While working there I decided to get my university degree. So I started going to school part time.

Ever since then I have not had very few moments where I have asked myself "What should I do now?" and the answer comes back "Andrew, anything you want!" In fact, in the past four and a half years I have only had that privilege for two days.

Last week, on Thrusday, I wrote my final exam in chemistry. If I did well on that, and the midterm which I wrote on Tuesday, then I should have had that priviledge ever since then.

Fat chance! Long story, which I won't go into here, but sleep was rare on the weekend, but disease was abundant. Both Robin and Bruce have been suffering with terrible colds. I somehow managed to stay healthy for exam time. But the day after I wrote the exam I got the cold. And let me tell you, it's a doosey. I have never missed work or school because of a cold before, except for one time. But here I am, at home instead of work for the second day in a row. (Did I mention I don't get sick days at work, so I either have to loose a day's pay, or make up the time.)

One time in university, when I was no longer working at MNR, the end of the semester was approaching. At the time I was doing some private contracting work for someone. But due to exams, assignments, etc. I wasn't able to do that much work for him. But I wasn't too worried because soon the semester woud be over and I would have a couple of weeks before the next semester started. The up coming semester was mostly a discrete math class. Up until this point I had been a math whiz, discrete, calculus, you name it, I was one of the best Sault College had. So, an easy discrete math class wouldn't be much to worry about, right?

Wrong. First, as exam week set in I got a cold. That should have been gone by the end of the week. Colds generally stick around for a week. After the first week instead of going away it got worse. Much worse. I got a sinus infection. I had never had a sinus infection before. It was brutal. It was incapacitating. I could only look at a computer monitor for so long. (About five minutes max.)

By the time the sinus infection cleared up and I could get down to work, the semester started and that math class turned out to be the third hardest class I have ever taken. Mostly due to a text book that wasn't worth the paper it was written on, and a professor who's such a bad teacher he probably couldn't teach his kids to tie their shoes. To do well in math I need either a good teacher or a good text book. I had neither. Class was three hours a day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Normally you do three hours a week for a university class. So, needless to say I was very busy. Once that was over I moved to Ottawa for the first time. Life in Ottawa is always busy.

So, what does that have to do with me dying? Well, I think the universe was so intricately designed so that I could never have productive free time without having to think about returning to school. If I did, nuclei would start flying apart. Black holes would start spewing stuff instead of sucking stuff in. The laws of physics would reverse and the universe would simply end.

The only way around it is to kill me off. So, I love you all (except for my looser math prof in university and the dean of my university who made me take chemistry by correspondence through Athabasca. I don't love you.)

Yes, I know this is a whiny pity party and I'm just feeling sorry for myself and I'm being way over-dramatic, but if there's one time you can do that, it's when you're sick.

UPDATE: I got my chemistry test results back and I did quite well. Better than I thought. Much. And here I am, over a week since I started feeling sick, still feeling sick. So it's official. I'm dying.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Am Getting Sleepy....

Here I sit at work on a Monday morning. It can be said that I have a case of the Mondays.

On week days I have to get up at 5:30am. This means I should really go to bed at about 9:30. That's a hard habit to get into. Then Friday and Saturday nights come and I get to bed at 1:00am. Then Sunday night returns and I make the 9:30am attempt. By this point I'm quite used to going to bed late, not early. This makes it hard to get to sleep on Sunday night, and twice as hard to get up Monday morning. This makes for a very tired me on Monday.

So, I find myself sitting at my desk fighting off sleep. I have four options:

  1. Continue sitting here trying, in a futile attempt, to stay awake. In reality my productivity will be near zero until at least after lunch. However, it will most likely get worse after lunch.

  2. Take a quick power-nap at my desk. This has two possible outcomes:

    1. I get caught which probably gets me in trouble. In a lot of places, one would get fired for that.

    2. I don't get caught. After about 20 or 30 minutes I wake up rested and refreshed. I have high productivity for the rest of the day.

  3. Go for another break to get some caffeine. I went for one break already to get a begal and a cup of tea. The tea isn't doing much to wake me up. I need something with more kick, like Coffee. (Please, no comments about how tea has more caffeine than coffee does. It's more complicated than that.) Of course, this comes with a risk of catching wind for taking too many breaks.

  4. Blog about it.

Obviously, I chose option 4. Although once I'm done the blog I'll be left with the three other choices.

The best option is really number 2. But the problem with that is the lack of understanding about sleep and how it works. Most people know as much about sleep as they do about nuclear chemistry. I have studied both at the university level and have concluded that sleep, or chronopsychology, is much much much much easier to learn about and understand than nuclear chemistry. Most of us sleep at least once every day, yet most people know very little about it.

For example, did you know that 30 minutes of sleep is not only quantitatively different, but also qualitatively different than 90 minutes of sleep? 3 thirty minute naps is not the same as 1 ninety minute nap.

Sleep happens in cycles of 90 minutes. There are a total of five stages of sleep in a cycle. They are called Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4 and REM sleep. Each stage is different from the others.

With 20 minute power-naps you can get into stages 1 and 2 sleep. That's good enough to give a bit of an energy boost, shave off a bit of fatigue, and feel a bit more refreshed and/or motivated. But you can't survive on it. You need stages 4 and REM to be fully rested.

With each cycle throughout the night you get different amounts of each stage. Your first two REM cycles are relatively short. Then they get longer, and your stages 3 and 4 get shorter.

How much sleep you need depends on a lot of factors including, but not limited to age, diet, physical health, hormone levels, amount of bright light and when you see that bright light.

It's also perfectly natural to take a short nap in the early afternoon.

This is just one of the many things every one should know, but few do. Anyway, I encourage you to visit The Sleep Foundation and learn a bit about sleep, and the circadian rhythm. It's a well done site with lots of information presented in an interesting and captivating way. (As long as you have Flash.)

As far as my dilemma, my employer is somewhat relaxed about these things. A second coffee break in the morning certainly wouldn't be a problem. Furthermore, I tend to stay for an extra hour and 15 minutes every day, and I'm usually caught up with my work. If productivity became a problem then I'd certainly have to look at my schedule, and daily practices, but at this point it's working. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Here's another site with some information on sleep.

UPDATE: Apparently, the French Minister of Health wants to launch a study into the benefits of napping at work. Finally! Someone with the right idea!