December 30, 2016
And I started asking, “What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are you working on?” And after some more time I came in one day and said, “If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?”
In the fall, Dave McCall stopped me in the hall and said, “Hamming, that remark of yours got underneath my skin. I thought about it all summer, i.e. what were the important problems in my field. I haven’t changed my research,” he says, “but I think it was well worthwhile.” And I said, “Thank you Dave,” and went on. I noticed a couple of months later he was made the head of the department. I noticed the other day he was a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. I noticed he has succeeded. I have never heard the names of any of the other fellows at that table mentioned in science and scientific circles. They were unable to ask themselves, “What are the important problems in my field?”
So what are my ‘fields’, in life? In alphabetical order:
- animal husbandry (chickens, dogs)
- family (husband, father, brother, son, son-in-law)
- finance (household)
- hacking (open source projects, hardware hacking)
- health (stress levels, enjoyment, flow, physical health)
- homeowner (maintaining a lovely environment for me & my family)
- music (recorder)
- profession (people manager, developer, recruiter)
That’s quite a lot to have going on at one time. I figured I’d narrow down the ‘most important problem’, or in most cases ‘greatest opportunity for improvement’ in each area. They wound up being (again in alphabetical order):
- I’ve never been entirely on top of animal ‘maintenance’, as I’ve dropped the ball on this a few times in the past. Regular, reliable worming, flea treatment, etc. etc. I’d like to have an Animal Calendar in 2017, that contains all the routine stuff that needs to happen.
- In my family life, I’ve tried to multi-task - mixing projects, work, and being emotionally present. I’d like that to stop; to put in place clear separations between work and play in 2017.
- Finance: this is an easy one. By the end of 2017, I’d like to have saved 10% of our total income.
- When hacking, I’ve been all over the place, trying to learn a bazillion new things and focusing on none of them inadequately. The most important open source system I use on a daily (hourly?) basis is Emacs. In 2017, I’d like to become an Emacs contributor.
- Health is a tricky one; there are a couple of niggly issues (clicky knees, sore Achilles tendon) that I’m working on but the most important things are fat & fitness. By the end of 2017, I’d like to have reduced my weight down to a stable 84kg, and improved my strength and fitness to a point where a watered-down SFAS routine is (un)comfortable, as opposed to gruelling.
- I’ve been letting the maintenance of our house & garden slip in the last 12 months. In 2017, I’d like to establish a routine where I spend at least 2 hours per weekend, every weekend, on garden and house maintenance. This will be from a prioritised list, budget permitting.
- Motorcycling is easier. In the next few years I’d like to progress to a litre bike for track use, so in 2017 I’ll focus my attention on one bike. In 2017, I’d like to have cleaned up and sold the Mito, and spent some of the money enhancing my SV650 (cleaned brakes and new braided lines, in particular). I’d also like to have the SV650 on a regular home maintenance schedule for cleaning, chain, etc.
- Music is another easy one. In 2017, I’d like to pass a Grade 4 alto recorder exam.
- Profession: the number one priority for my employer, right now, is recruitment. It’s also an easy one to measure, so in 2017, I’d like to have referred at least six people to Cogent who subsequently receive offers.
Most of those goals incorporate their own measures, except for family life. I’ll have to rely on frequent feedback from my wife and the children, as well as regular reflection, to know whether I’m hitting that goal.
From time to time, fields will collide, and I’ll be forced to prioritise them. Here’s the priority I’ve decided on, in descending order:
- animal husbandry
As with everything else, I’ll organise the above using org-mode. I have a rough routine in mind for weekdays:
- Wake at 0530; check personal email; dress; prep for work.
- Wake children at 0630; prep for childcare.
- Return from work around 1800; prep for dinner and family play.
- Family play until around 1930; children to bed w/ stories.
- Time with my wife until around 2030.
- Project work until around 23:00.
- Bed around 23:30.
… where “project work” will often be “an evening with my wife, or other friends and family”, and occasionally be “catching up on sleep” :)
This gives me two and a half hours a night for working on the above goals (except for professional goals; those are worked on during office hours).
Mostly I’ll work ad-hoc (based on convenience, motivation and external dependencies) but Tuesdays and Thursdays will be spent in part on exercise.
Weekends will be much more ad-hoc, based around family activities. But I plan to:
- Sleep in until at least 08:00 both days.
- Do all my week’s work prep on Sunday afternoon or evening: iron shirts, sort clothes, polish shoes, pack bags, etc.
I plan to work out using a modified (watered down!) version of the SFAS selection training routine. Specifically: only two days per week (Tuesdays, Thursdays), and no running or forced marches.
I’ll be setting up my old weight bench outside, for easier work with dumbbells.
To achieve my weight loss goals quickly and easily, I plan to fast three out of seven days as per the 5:2 diet. Fast days will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday - with Friday being dropped if necessary for family dinners etc. Also, there’ll be no fasting on days when I’m feeling unwell, or particularly tired.
Once my weight is to where I want it to be, I’ll reduce the number of fasting days per week for maintenance.