From Dublin with love

Despite my best attempts, this blog post is stilll almost 2 months late. For all the talk about consistency, I was still unable to put pen to paper and get things done.

This happened even though I had numerous ideas about what to write, going as far as to write outlines and code samples but never actually putting it together.

I don’t think it was the difficulty of finding topics, I think it was the dread and expectation of the arduousness and pain I would need to go through to actually craft a piece. That probably wouldn’t end up being that hot anyway.

There is a mantra that’s grown more common among software folks in the last few years. Ship fast, Ship often. It works because you get used to the pain, rather than forgetting it. It works because you find ways to deal with what’s constantly in your face, rather than hours slogging through it each time.

It’s not a new invention. Successful blog writers have long advocated the virtues of releasing consistently with a schedule. And I’ve always thought I’d be good at following a schedule. When I was in school, my annual report card usually had some remark about “high self discipline”. As it turns ot, following what someone tells you to do is not the same as following goals you set for yourself.

Being obedient is not the same as being as being self motivated.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was a reasonable runner. I even took part in a 4 x 100 track relays for my class. It was a time when I would run around 6km every Sunday. I would meet Mr. Wee, a friend of mine, at the same place every Sunday morning and we would jog down for breakfast.

We didn’t always make it all the way there (sometimes we even skipped the run altogether!), but we would show up.

Years later, as I’m writing this here in Dublin, all that seems rather far away. I’m not sure when we’ll make it back to Sydney for any extended period of time, and I’m even worse at keeping in touch with the folks from Singapore.

Who knows what the future holds, or where this post actually leading to. I do know I had to get it out, even though no one was really pushing me to. And it cannot end without a solution, because what seems like the hopelessness of a hopeless problem is a poor excuse for not trying to solve it.

So I’ll ship fast and ship often, with a blog every Saturday. Next one will be on 15/11, so stay tuned!

“bad constant pool tag 18” with sbt and JDK 8

Scala < 2.10.4 does not play well with JDK 8, thanks to invokedynamic being used in some JDK classes (see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/scala-user/Nzc2zUTyays).

If you can use JDK 7, it is probably the easiest workaround. If you have to use JDK 8, upgrading to sbt >= 0.13.5 is also an option, since those sbt versions use Scala 2.10.4 (See http://www.scala-sbt.org/0.13/docs/Changes.html)

Sadly, this can lead to other issues, such as libraries being only available for Scala 2.9.x and not 2.10.x. YMMV. Happy building ;P

https in layman terms

This will be a quick primer for public key cryptography in layman terms. I’d like to use the content for a Toastmasters’ speech in the not too distant future, hopefully leading to a Bitcoin presentation.

We often take for granted how easy it is to send messages securely over the internet. From filing taxes to transferring money, “how conveniently can it be done”, as opposed to “how securely can it be done” is the usual question. What does it really mean to be secure over the internet though? What does the green lock you see when you run your browser really mean?

Let’s try and walk through the steps involved in making a bank transfer, and see what could go wrong.

As is the tradition in IT security, we will use the characters Alice and Bob. Alice wants to transfer $100 to Bob. At her terminal, she wants to send a message the equivalent of “transfer $100 from my account to Bob”.

This message has to travel across numerous connections till it finally gets to the bank, where it is read and processed.

How can we prevent anyone else along the way from reading Alice’s message? Apart from buying over all the links to our bank on the internet, one option would be to scramble the message and foil any would-be eavesdroppers. This is known as encryption, and would work, except that Alice’s bank would need to know how to unscramble the message and actually process it.

Encryption is not a new problem, many methods/algorithms exist, but they all rely on a specific “key” that is known beforehand. How would it know beforehand how to get this key? It would also need to make a different one for each account holder, otherwise any customer of the bank could read any other customer’s data.

You can’t really send the key over the internet since that could be intercepted and read. You could go to your bank and negotiate some kind of secret, common key beforehand. That would work, but it wouldn’t be very feasible for all parties you’d like to conduct a transaction with, like say Amazon.

The solution that was eventually adopted used a neat bit of math. Rather than using the same, single “key” that both alice and her bank could decrypt/encrypt with, a type of encryption method exists where each party has two keys. These keys are often called private and public keys, for reasons that will become obvious soon. A message encrypted using the bank’s public key can only be decrypted using bank’s private key, and vice versa. The key thing here is that knowledge of the public key does not allow you to decrypt the message.

In practice, any website that operates over https as opposed to http has generated a pair of keys. Your web browser automatically does the required encryption using the website’s public key. When you visit a https website, the website presents its public key to you and you then use it for encrypted communications.

The more eagle-eyed or technically inclined audience might spot a problem here. Suppose Eve controls one of the computers along the chain. When the initial public key is being sent to Alice, she instead replaces the bank’s public key with one of her own, so that Alice now encrypts her data using Eve’s public key. Eve can now intercept the messages and relay them to the bank, possibly modified to say transfer money to her account.

This can be prevented if we knew beforehand what the bank’s public key actually was, without actually needing the bank to present itself. Some kind of centralised key registry. However, this key registry would need to be dynamic since new websites are registered all the time, and you would need to “know” the public key of this centralised key registry in order to start the whole process in a secure fashion.

In practice, what happens is not so different. A secure website doesnt just present its public key, the public key forms part of a certificate. Just like say a birth certificate, it is meant to certify the identity of the website, so it contains the entity name, organisation etc. The interesting technical part of all this is the certificate is usually certified by a certification authority (remember key repository?). This certification authority in turn is usually certified by yet another certification authority, and so on until we reach a root certification authority. Your browser, when installed, contains files that can be used to verify only these root certification authorities. This is known as a certificate chain, one end of the chain is the website you are visiting, and on the other end a root certification authority that your browser knows about.

So at the end of the day, here’s what happens when you visit a secure website, in somewhat simplified terms:

  • The website presents you with its public key as part of the website’s certificate. The certificate has been issued by a certification authority.
  • Your browser verifies that this certification authority has been certified, directly or indirectly by a root certification authority it knows about.
  • When satisfied that the public key it has received really belongs to the website you are visiting, it then starts transferring data encrypted with this public key
  • The receiving website then uses its private key to decrypt the data it receives, and to encrypt its response.

All this takes place when you visit a website such as https://bank.barclays.co.uk . You can even inspect the certificate for yourself.

In practice, the process is actually a little more complicated than I’ve outlined. Certificates can have different standards and levels depending on how rigorously a certification authority has verified the identity of a website; encryption and descryption using public and private keys can be computationally expensive and a shared key is often generated and used for encryption once a secure session has been set up using the private and public keys. However, he ideas of identify verification by a 3rd party and the use of public and private keys for encryption/decryption is largely as described.

I hope I’ve given you a quick overview of what interacting with a secure website actually entails. In my next talk, I’ll try and extend some of these ideas a little further and outline how they relate to a decentralised currency like Bitcoin. To be continued 😛

Should I be happy or annoyed for this hobo?

“Tack så mycket, tack så mycket, tack… tack så mycket”, the hobo murmured. Cross-legged on the corner of Hötorget Tunnelbana station, he was uttering the equivalent of “thank you so much” in an endless loop. Probably aged around 20-ish, he often addressed me on my way to the office with a smirk on his face. He wore nice clothes for a hobo, with jacket and shirt that even appeared to be ironed. No holes noticed. He was never unshaven, and his brightly lit eyes, sneaked excitement of the things he probably planned to use his begging money for.

I vouched to never give him money. Actually I will go one step further, I vouch to never give money to hobos in Stockholm. Ever. If one of your friends who have been here told you that all Stockholm’s hobos don’t look like hobos, you better believe it, because they are right. Hobos here wear leather shoes, so stylish that makes Potato Y easily qualify as a Swedish hobo, accompanied with his laptop and a cardboard on his chest that says, “Will program for food”. (He may pick up more money than them too).

Back to the hobo I see every morning, he looks cleaner and sleeker every day, and yet he’s still begging and showing no intention to move on. Should I be happy that his life seems to be going so well, or should I be annoyed? Why can’t he find something else to do that is more useful than sitting on his arse all day?

Maybe I should go too

I stood in front of the train station’s entrance, observing. People passed through me like swarms of flies, some fast, some slow. Two teenagers caught my eye, they were multitasking. Both girls walked slowly past the gates, talking to each other, while looking intently at their phones, as if they were speaking to each other through the microphones. A boy, running for the train, accidentally pushed one of the girls, just hard enough to snatch her out of the semi-virtual conversation. She got angry, but the boy had already disappeared. An old lady bumbled along, pulled in different directions by three big dogs she held on to. A family of five tried to go through the exit rather than the entrance, although the pathway was clearly labeled for commuters to get out. The exiting swarms did not care about what the family wanted to do, so the family gave up and re-entered through the correct entrance.

I thought it was like life, no matter in what manner we went through the gate, or how many times we tried to enter, everyone would eventually catch the train. Only those who stood still would miss the train, like me, because I was still observing. Maybe I should go too.

 

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Introducing Parental.IO

The question on how to raise a successful child is ranked probably as difficult as how to get rich. Partly, it’s because parents know how important early child development is, starting from when kids were inside the mom’s tummy, to their university degree. Partly it’s because we don’t know what is in store for kids who are born today. We will have to know what the future is like in 25 years down the track – when the baby will enter the workforce.

Some say creativity and critical thinking are two of the most important assets to build. Some say social ability and empathy are more important, and some say coding abilities are important, because of the digital nature of the world the kids are entering. Who is right? Would it depend on the personality of the kid? Would it depend on their interest? or would it depend on the age of the kid? Younger kids may need to be able to practise their motor skills, to improve the dexterity of their hands. Toddler may need to learn to read better so that they’ll be able to connect to the world around them. Older kids of the age of 10 may need to learn how to socialise safely in the virtual world.

Stories of successful entrepreneurs, one man who is able to be innovative, creative, and productive such as Steve Jobs is the bar that parents want to beat. Steve, single-handedly created several companies, each worth millions, if not, billions of dollars. The possibilities of what kids can achieve are boundless, and consequently, parents are obsessed to provide the best education for kids to reach those dreams.

Couple that obsession with the explosion of mobile technology in the last decade. Pre-mobile, kids need to be able to know how to use keyboard and mouse in order to benefit from technology. Now, babies as early as six months old are able to interact with an iPhone. Touch here, touch there, they get somewhere. Maybe it’s learning what a triangle looks like, or which circle is coloured red. Either way, educational games have huge potential to let kids learn any sorts of skill early on. More and more quality games are developed: games that encourage creativity, social interaction, and even family bonding. The numbers are increasing rapidly, and this is great news.

Unfortunately though, the technology also brings some side effects that can be dangerous to the very kids we serve it to. In the last five years, the same story has appeared over and over, on a range of issues attributed to excessive technology usage. Health issues such as early vision impairment and RSI, repetitive strain injuries, that are usually common among adults over 40-years-old, are now hitting teenagers. Kids are now reportedly late in developing their motor skills as they follow a more sedentary lifestyle, not playing much outside the house. These kids are also more likely to develop anti-social behaviour and to experience difficulty to even bond with family members.

More alarmingly, mental issues such as social media addiction and game addiction are on the rise especially when the side effects are not addressed. Just last month, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide related to the deletion of her facebook account. Another tragic event unfolded when a 16-year-old boy killed both of his parents last year over restrictions that the parents have enforced on his iPod usage. “I just remember getting mad”, he told the police. The extreme rage shown in this case is unhealthy. Try to snatch an iPad out of a five-year-old after playing several hours with the device, the kid will show a glimpse of that same rage.

In light of this, child psychologist and concern parents tried the unthinkable: digital detox. The detox program ranges from home bound, to a full blown camp for kids, learning to live without devices. Some of them reported success. In fact, one of my friends told me that it takes about 10 days for his daughter not to use her iPad, in order for her to completely forget about its existence. That is a great news, if only that is the solution.

You have to admit that it is impossible to imagine a future without technology, hitherto no psychologist has ever advised to cut technology from the kids’ life completely. The effect will be debilitating, similar to telling a twenty-year-old to never learn how to type or use the mouse. For all we know, kids growing up in today’s world may even need to know how to code in order to be able to manipulate technology in their day-to-day jobs. How can we then keep technology to be a part of the kids’ lives, without suffering the repercussion?

The answer lies within creating a healthy routine whenever any technology device is involved. The earlier the parents are able to establish this routine, the easier it is for both the parents and the kids. It starts from selecting good quality apps and programs for kids to learn, setting attractive rewards to promote responsible usage of devices, and also creating usage limits and “screen-free” zones where kids understand the boundary of which they are not supposed to cross.

This is the idea where we grounded our work, Parental.IO.

pio_documentcover_girllibrary

Parental.IO is a site where parents can remotely control their kids’ devices. It recommends quality apps that are suitable for the age of your children. It tracks what your kids like to play, and use that data to recommend future apps, so that, as your kids grow, the applications they are playing will continue to be appropriate for them. It sets daily limits and quiet hours suitable for their age, and lastly, it recommends events and activities you can do with your kids when they are not on the device.

Since its inception in 2007, the app store is now filled with high quality apps that have been beautifully designed with educational purposes in mind. Dora’s Cooking Club, is an app handy for kids as young as three to learn to count within the context of cooking. Herotopia, is an app fitting for seven-year-old kids where kids become heroes by combatting bullying. Google Earth is marked relevant for teenagers around 13-years-of-age who want to explore the outdoors further.

We think Parental.IO can also help parents in recommending the time limit that fits the kids’ age. Just because the apps have high educational value, it doesn’t mean that the kids should play on devices for the whole day. What about time to bond with their parents? What about time for homework? The general consensus spans from one to two hours a day, and some psychologist also advise for weekly limit of ten hours and let the kids choose when they want to spend it. Parental.IO ensures that those limits are strictly followed by automatically locking the device when the time is up. At times such as dinner time, parents can also use Parental.IO to instantly lock all devices to get the kids’ full attention.

Another important feature of Parental.IO is to recommend activities that the family can do outside the virtual world. We will recommend them based on the age of the kids as well as the kids’ interest. For example, if the kid likes to play cooking game, we may suggest baking cakes as a good bonding time for the family to do. It is also good to see what other families with similar aged kids are doing to get some ideas.

In the longer term, we want to help parents build good routine whenever any device is involved. Parental.IO has rewards and tasks functionality where kids can claim brownie points after they’ve done their chores, such as making their bed, or doing their homework. The rewards don’t just have to be more screen time; it can be a family day out to the movies, or simply getting ice creams. The main thing is that kids understand that screen time is a privilege, obtainable only by demonstrating good behaviour. If they abuse it, they run the risk of getting less screen time.

So, how does this all sound? Would you be interested to try Parental.IO or would you recommend us to some of your friends who are parents to kids under 12-years-old?

We came up with the idea after I got addicted to Hay Day, spending a good 12 hours a week on the game alone. Supercell, the creator of Hay Day, employs dedicated, highly intelligent developers, whose sole purpose is to get people addicted to the game. We think it’s unfair for kids having to fight these developers on their own, a battle so one sided, where the losers will obviously be the kids and their families. Our wish is for Parental.IO to level the playing field in the favour of the families.

 

 

PS. Min’an came up with similar post last week. We are not trying to duplicate the content, but we’re tweaking the message to be a more positive, hopefully more attractive preposition. Let us know if this is a better message i.e. more sellable. Any feedback will be immensely appreciated!

Parental Analytics

Folks, today I’d like to tell you about a problem. A problem that is all around us and getting worse. A problem that affects some of the most vulnerable members in our society.

I want to tell you how this problem is really an opportunity, and why existing attempts to address it have fallen short.
And finally, I’d like to tell you what we want to do about it 😀

I’ll start by relating the account of Guy Adams, a writer at the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK:

Waking up at the ungodly hour of 4am, I see William, my 3 year old son with a pleading look. He had entered our bedroom and shaken me awake to say “Daddy, I need the Ipad” with as much urgency as his 3 year old voice could muster.

I marched him back into his room and told him to get back to bed, only to wake up at 7 in the morning and find him in the sitting room, iPad in hand. He had stolen it from our bedroom and been at it for a good 2 hours or so judging from the remaining battery life. Removing it from him lead to the biggest tantrum I had seen him throw, to the point that it was difficult to feed him breakfast.

We live in a time of change. Many of us live a large part of our lives in front of a screen, whether it be for work, play or to socialise. And this digital drug is affecting our children more profoundly than any other technological revolution in the past century or so will. The ability of devices like the iPad to occupy kids is so effective it has been dubbed the iNanny by many parents. There are over 40000 kids apps on the app store today – it is a booming market catering to the app consumers of tomorrow.

Perversely, this means that there are literally legions of smart, educated programmers out there whose sole job is to defeat the psychological safeguards of kids who have not even developed the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. Their sole purpose is to keep the kids hooked, to play more and buy more in the apps. The odds are stacked against a kid today having a healthy relationship with the digital world from the beginning.

By the time parents realise they have a problem, it’s not a good place to be in. Just a week ago, Vincent Parker, a 16 year old honour-roll student from Virginia admitted murdering his parents to death over routine punishments, like depriving him of his iPod. “I just remember getting mad,” he told investigators. “Itís all from my dad. All this stuff like my dad taking away my iPod and stuff”.

I’ll let that sink in for a bit – a smart young boy murdering his parents over digital restrictions. It is obvious that the implications of digital addiction are not well understood.

Yet in mainstream addictions, to cigarettes, drugs or gambling, taking away the substance usually leads to a better quality of life. Arguably, taking technology away is not an option for many parents, not in the digital world we live in today. Technology is here to stay.

As they say, knowing is half the battle. Digital addiction is becoming more recognised, but how to deal with it less so. Approaches range from a no-device and no-access policy to more moderate approaches, involving close parental supervision and hard restrictions, but all of them start from first contact with any digital device.

Unfortunately, many of these approaches focus solely on restrictions, limiting the amount of time spent, on blocking potentially harmful apps. I believe we can do more. Rather than just limiting to try and minimise adverse side effects of digital exposure, we should actively seek out ways to make use of technology better to harness its potential, whilst still maintaining a healthy relationship between kids and devices.

Rather than just making sure kids don’t spend too much time playing angry birds, find and also have them also play games like Sandbox, where they solve complex puzzles using the laws of physics.
It extends beyond the digital frontier as well; rather than just making sure they’re not playing something violent, taking them to cooking classes because they like playing games like Cooking Mama or Cake Cooking Challenge.

In fact, rather than giving them access as an allocated entitlement, let them work towards it, allow them more screen time if they help out around the house or do well at school.

In many ways, looking after your kid in the digital realm is nothing more than an extension of good parenting. You’d never let your kid swim unsupervised in a pool, but they weren’t always in the pool. Today, they’re always in the pool whenever a screen is involved because it’s just become that easy. And constant supervision seems like a luxury, especially if both parents are working, an increasingly common situation today.

And this is exactly where we come in. We’re starting Parental Analytics, a company that tries to make it easier in two ways – Firstly, we provide apps that not only cater to the limiting usage of the devices, but also ways to analyse your kid’s usage and suggest ways to take your use of technology with them a step further; be it through suggestions of similar apps with stronger educational content or real life activities you can do with your kid when they’re not in front of a screen. Apps that allow you to track and give rewards for desireable real life behaviour in the form of screen time. Secondly, we want to build a community of parents around these tools, parents who share the same problems dealing with bringing up kids in the new digital future, and curate strategies and techniques that have worked for them.

We don’t want to a substitute for good parenting – we don’t believe there is one, but we definitely believe we can use technology to make the task easier. We hope that we’ve given you an idea of the challenge we’re trying to solve, and that you’re as excited as us in harnessing technology to change the narrative of digital device relationships from just one of digital addiction, to one of digital opportunity. If you are facing this problem yourself, or know anyone facing this problem, please let us know, we’d love to have a chat about our beta testing program before launch.

Sample Page

This is an example page. It’s different from a blog post because it will stay in one place and will show up in your site navigation (in most themes). Most people start with an About page that introduces them to potential site visitors. It might say something like this:

Hi there! I’m a bike messenger by day, aspiring actor by night, and this is my blog. I live in Los Angeles, have a great dog named Jack, and I like piña coladas. (And gettin’ caught in the rain.)

…or something like this:

The XYZ Doohickey Company was founded in 1971, and has been providing quality doohickeys to the public ever since. Located in Gotham City, XYZ employs over 2,000 people and does all kinds of awesome things for the Gotham community.

As a new WordPress user, you should go to your dashboard to delete this page and create new pages for your content. Have fun!

Traffic in my mind

My mind was going at 100 km an hour. I had too many things to do, and clock ticked pass 5 pm. I didn’t notice how fast my mind was rushing, though. It seemed logical that the only way to do so many things was to think faster. And yet when I did, it tended to leave me with the feeling of anxiety rather than satisfaction. I knew deep down that not everything was done properly, even if I managed to (rarely!), that I would have accidentally made mistakes that would haunt me later.

Knowing this though, what do I need to do to stop the amount of work that needs to be done, the constant calls, the constant emails, and the constant meetings? This traffic never seems to stop. Ever.

Have you had days like mine? Sometimes I thought that when there are too much traffic, there will naturally be a traffic jam, where everything will finally come to a stop. But sadly I found out these jams are not a much needed timeout but rather a horrible period when I get very low on my confidence, I get sick, or worse, I get depressed and become hopeless the situation.

In the last couple of years, I found out  that  there is something I can do with this traffic before it becomes a jam. So hopefully if you have been in the same situation too many times, it may help you as well.

To begin, attach a thought to each tasks in your mind, and then visualise each thought as a car in the traffic in your mind.

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The first time you do this, it may look like the above :O

The road in the mind is filled with various cars, and you are sitting on the side of the road. Some sports cars, pretty polished lot, always give joy to watch. Two ambulances, that are going to hit the intersections at the same time. Oh! you just hope there will be no accident, otherwise there will be a traffic jam. Several garbage trucks. They are smelly and slow, and you wish you won’t sight them anymore. Looking at the vehicles gives you different feelings – feelings of joy (sports cars), of immediacy (ambulance), and of disgust (garbage trucks). You can stand up and step into the traffic jam, push the garbage trucks out of the road to make ways for the ambulance, but it’s not necessary.  If you stand on the side of the road, and wait, the traffic will pass by, and you will soon see the traffic is reducing. By itself.

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The act of standing on the side of the road, and noticing the cars that go by, is meditation. When you close your eyes, and picture each of your thoughts, labeling them and being aware of their existence in your mind, passing harmlessly from one intersection to another, you allow thoughts to pass through you, without the need to respond to them. Without meditation, it is akin to standing in the middle of the road, getting hit by the fastest ambulance – speeding on 100 km an hour.

Meditation, is a very simple activity. It involves closing your eyes, breathing rhythmically, and being in touch with your body stimuli. Around mid 2013, I watched a ted talk by Andy puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes which persuaded me to try following a simply 10 minutes daily meditation for 10 days. The guided meditation make it very easy to follow, and it focuses on me being relaxed, without having to bend to weird uncomfortable posture, without having to breathe from stomach, without having to empty the mind. Simply to take regular breathing, and to notice any thought that arises within the 10 minutes. I look forward to these sessions every day and I don’t think I can function properly without them.

They say you only need 100 minutes of meditation to see some effect of calmness and clarity, and I can attest that it is true. After some practice, I can recognise feelings, especially negative feelings like anger and anxiety as they arise, and I can choose to do something about it. I am a calmer person in general, although I can’t calm myself down on-demand like what some people can do, yet. What I can do now is to realise that I’m entering hot water, and I can spend the next 10 minutes to meditate rather than making decisions that I will regret in the future. The nice thing is that with just 10 minutes, I can move to a calm state, ready to respond to the problem at hand or to rationally postpone any decision that has to be made on that day if I feel that I’m not calm enough yet. Feels like having a superpower, especially when you can recognise the anger eating some people you are dealing with. They can’t think properly, but you can 😉

Have you ever meditated before? Did you find the calm-spot? 😀 I’ve introduced the same guided meditation program to my colleagues and they also find the activity very calming and enjoyable. We usually do it at work around 3 pm, when the day is not finished but yet clarity is depleting.

Just a side note, the 10 day program was free, but afterwards I have to pay. So I search for meditation app that suits me. I found a simple meditation music app, it has a really nice soothing songs that run for 8 minutes. I enjoy the song every time it plays, and the app lets me know when the 8 minutes is up (it stops playing), freeing my mind to take the effortless joy in watching the traffic in my mind.

Why I Write

I struggled with writing this post. The poison post schedule has started to feel like a chore, and I think it’s because the last few posts haven’t been very meaningful. So I’ve been doing a little soul searching about what I’m trying to get out of writing in the first place.

Realistically, nothing (serious) is going to happen to me if I don’t meet the schedule. Marty will probably hound me every time she writes one, but everyone else who might invoke physical violence is about 1600km away. At the end of the day, the poison blog chain is a small push to encourage posting, but if there’s no purpose to post for, it becomes somewhat contrived.

And yet there was definitely a reason why the poison blog schedule exists, one that I think is still extremely relevant. When Mel and I first came up with the idea of a poison blog, its main purpose was to provide a way to keep in touch, since we were getting busier, moving to another country and all that.

Embarrassingly, looking at my last few posts, they’ve been less about keeping in touch and more about putting something out there. The most recent one has really been A postcard from Chicago, but looking at it now makes me wonder how valuable it really was in terms of an update. It’s also a little lonely when you do write something and you don’t get any indication that someone has actually read it, especially if you’ve put some time into it. I think I can definitely do better.

I recently watched a video about accumulating career capital, talking about how how successful folks accumulate the skills they leverage to shape the life they want, but is also critical of common wisdom that you should follow your passion. One of the things mentioned is the idea of deliberate practice, where folks engage in activities purposefully meant to get better at their craft, as opposed to just normal practice, where they carry out their craft. It rang true for me because it highlighted the difference between “just programming and writing stuff” and “writing something with the purpose of improving yourself as a developer”.

I think a similar idea applies here, where if you say you are writing to keep in touch, or to advance your professional career, it should be deliberate, purposeful, and you should have a clear idea of how to evaluate if you’ve been successful, be it by receiving feedback, the number of pageviews, likes, or otherwise.

Something like keeping in touch seems a little fuzzier, but I know I can definitely share more than posting some pictures and some short narration 😉 I still think that meeting face to face is the best way to keep in touch, and failing that Skype or Hangouts is a distant second, but being able to share something helps to asynchronously fill in the inevitable gaps between those times. It’s not like I’ll quiz everyone I told about my blog “Have you read it? Don’t you know I did this?”, but more of a way to say hey, if you have some time and you’d like to catch up, you can even if I’m not available or free, and we can talk about something a little more than superficial the next time we do manage to catch up. It goes both ways though, and I’ve been more slack than I should have when it comes to reading other blogs.

It’s a similar sort of story when I look at my posts about the projects I’ve written. I had always thought that I would be able to point to my projects at some point in the future and say “hey, look, I did this in two weeks” as a way of building up some level of professional credibility. Reading them now, I don’t think I’ve gotten closer to it because it’s always been an idea, a naive hope at the back of my mind that I’ve not actually tried to consciously work towards in my project posts. Practicing is great, but it’s deliberate practice that’s going to get you somewhere.

In a long roundabout way, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s definitely still a reason for me to keep writing, but I hope to do so with a little more purpose, to make sure I’m getting as much out of writing as I hope to. In a new year, in a new, overdue post, I hope to do a little better;)

Why do you write? Have you been getting as much out of blogging as you would have liked to? Would love to hear your thoughts, especially folks on the poison blog roll 🙂

I’ll be the first to point out that this post hasn’t really talked much about what I’ve actually been doing in the last few weeks. In my defense though, that’s going to be the topic of the next post that will definitely be on time 😛