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Category: Personal

Getting things done with attention deficiency

People see me as an efficient and productive developer, but as many people I am very easily distracted and this productivity is only the visible outcome of an internal war that has been spaning several decacades.

If you also find yourself struggling with guilt of not getting things done fast enough, I hope some of this may help you in your fight.

Sleep well

Super cheesy I know. So much to do, not enough time in the day, right? What years of sleep deprivation taught me is that “nothing good ever got done after 22:00”.
Go to sleep on a decent time, (I didn’t say early, because I’m unable to go to sleep early myself) and treat you a good 7-8h of sleep per day. Do it for a few days, and witness yourself getting super powers:

  • you will remember what you read more vividly (e.g. while reading documentation)
  • your ideas will flow faster and clearer
  • your attention to details will rise up (e.g. preventing typos)

Get a few sleep-less days, and you’ll get back in the constant haze of brain numbness, not remembering what you were doing 10 minutes ago, staring at your screen blankly, your idea well dry as hell.

Procrastination as a red flag

Society likes to point fingers at slackers and procrastinators, while it seems two very different beasts to me.
Over the years, I identified a few activities as things I would always postpone:

  • social activities such as making business phone calls
  • paperwork
  • writing documentation
  • providing negative feedback to people

Anything else I would gladly do, but I couldn’t be bothered to do any item on my todo list, and no amount of reminders was motivating me.

Then I realized they all shared some similarities:

  • they were mandatory
  • they made me uncomfortable

Mandatory, obviously, otherwise I would have just scratched them off from my todo and it would have been the end of the story.
But uncomfortable? I’m a serious introvert, so people-related activities take me a lot of energy to deal with, and often leave me exhausted. I also suffer from dyscalculia, and this has made my life complicated at many levels, including accounting and invoicing, and all paperwork that includes numbers in general. Finally, writing documentation using frameworks like sphinx involves a lot of time-consuming setup and were not fun at all.

How to deal with these then? Well, I have to do achieve the goals, but maybe the means are wrong:

  • phone calls and hard discussions have to be made, but I don’t have to do them all in a row. I need to recover some of my “people” energy in between calls, and stop when my energy is low
  • I hired an assistant to do my paperwork for me
  • I moved from full-fledged documentation to just writing a README in Markdown, for which I see immediate results without having to re-compile the project and deal with ToC warnings

When the guilt is gone, only remain pain points that you need to address so you can move on being efficient again. Procrastination was just the red flag to show you something was off.

Remove distractions

I was raised doing my homework next to the TV, then moved on to listening to songs while studying, and my memorisation skills were terrible back then. I would remember everything from class, but couldn’t work straight back home. Then one day I decided I needed extra focus on something, dropped the headphones and remained in total silence while working. I was able to get in the zone, and focus for longer stretches, with less mistakes, and less daydreaming.

Since then, whenever I’m doing something that requires just a bit of concentration, I just remain in total silence, and it makes all the difference from even music droning in the background, etc.

I also disabled all notifications on my computer and my phone, because I figured out they would properly screw up my focus and get me out of the zone constantly. My phone only now rings for actual phone calls, but otherwise I can forget about the rest of the world for as long as I want while I’m working, and whatever I’m doing has my complete attention for as long as needed.

Make sure you also inform your family, room mates, etc. that you need concentration, since they might be used to bug you all the time and not understand (or not take it seriously) any restriction you could put in place. Remind them that when you’re at work, you’re not in a good setting for being social.

Practice your will

I think that’s where most people give up. When you find yourself being distracted, it’s important to regain control of yourself and push through it. Don’t guilt-trip yourself to “do your job”, but encourage yourself “ok, I just need to re-focus for the next 2 minutes to get back in the zone”. Before you figure it out, you’re focused again.

Start from the cheese

One tip that I often give to aspiring developers, is to start from the end goal and reconstruct your way to there. Instead of starting from the problem definition, start from the expected outcome, and walk backward, asking yourself, ok, to get to step Z, I will need output of Y, then Y need output from X, and X needs output from V and W, … all the way to A, the problem definition.

This is very easy to put in place when you do TDD, you just describe your desired output as your assertions, then walk backwards to your original inputs.

Fine your productive times of the day

We all have our routine, but also tiles during the day when our energy is more suited to different activities. For me:

  • Morning is for meetings, reports, simple code reviews, emails
  • Lunch break is for lunch, keeping up with news, watching shows on Netflix
  • Afternoon is for uninterrupted work, creative activities or complex code reviews
  • Dinner is for family time
  • Evening is for learning, playing with new technology, or just playing games

It’s because I’m usually waking up late, so morning flies by, and I’m not fully awake before lunch. Afternoon can stretch until early night if I need to get something out of my system,and I know I can’t sleep well if I’m not done with my ideas, this is why I’m putting learning at the end of the day.

This is my routine because this is how I live and feel good. You need to figure out when you have the best energy for each activity in your routine and even if it’s unusual, go for it.

All work and no play …

As you may have understood, work takes up a large part of my day, often overflowing over the weekend. At some point, even enjoyable activities get me cranky for no reason, and I contemplate switching careers.

Obviously in these days, my productivity is a flat zero.

Know yourself

At the end of the day, these are just personal reflections from many years of living and working with attention deficit. I’m not a doctor, I didn’t read anything about the topic, I’m just describing how I work around this myself, and how I managed to both use my hyper-focus as a booster, and reduce the amount of distractions through the day. I hope this may help anyone in the same situation, in any case you are not alone ο™‚

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Powerslide SUV Next Renegade 125 Review

Unboxing and first look

I remember when the Rollerblade Coyote commercials aired in 1997, I was really into skating at the time, and lived in a small town surrounded by forests and dirt paths. The idea of skating on uneven surfaces was a dream of mine, but the price tag was crazy high for the teenager I was so it remained a dream for a long time.

Fast forward a few summers, and I’m now an adult with a bit more disposable income, living in Belgium (known for its waffles and broken-beyond-repaid sidewalks). Combined with the all-year-long wet weather, it’s not the most welcoming place to be skating.

Early June, out of curiosity, I wanted to check whether those off-road skates were still a thing, and realised they still were, and that several other manufacturers started their own lines of off-road skates.

I spent a few days reading reviews and watching videos, and crossed my fingers while purchasing my first pair.

Most reviews are a few years old and it wasn’t easy to cross-reference opinions about these skates, since the branding and models have evolved a bit over time. Here is a 2020 review of the SUV Next Renegade 125 skates by PowerSlide.

Here are a few videos I watched that convinced me to purchase:


James Mackey has several other reviews of the Imperial SUV
This one convinced me on the 125mm when I was also hesitating with 150mm

I ordered the skates from https://www.der-rollenshop.de/, which provides a good choice and reasonable prices. Shopping experience was quite good and they were kind enough to let me know that my order would be delayed because the bottle of anti-rust lubricant I ordered together with the skates was out of stock.

The box contains the skates and a Torx tool, so no need to order a separate one. I also ordered a nordic tire pump from Powerslide with an integrated gauge, since I had read that inflating had to be precise in order to have the best skating conditions without risking to blow a tire.

Size-wise, I do a 10 UK, ordered the 44-45 size and they fit perfectly, even without using the head moulding.

Comparison with Fitness skates

I started skating as a teen with street/agressive skates (my beloved K2 Fatty), but later on I moved to fitness models that I thought would be more comfortable to wear on the long run. I now own a pair of Fila Primo Evo that served me well, but are still not very practical on broken roads and pavements, and I managed to fall badly at least once due to gravel.

Compared to fitness skates, the Renegade 125 are massive. I read reviews, and kinda expected this, but they feel much heavier. The impression might also come from the hard boot, but they feel stiff and bulky.

The wheel train length is also something to pay attention to. You can see on the pictures below that the wheels extend beyond the boot by a good 5cm, so you need to be careful when crossing skates.

125mm vs 80mm

Skating experience

I’ll say it again, the Renegade 125 feel heavy when worn, and you’ll quickly feel it in your butt and knees.

I read people complaining about acute pain on the arch of the left foot when used for some time. I did experience it on the first run, but for me it was a fold in the liner that was too rigid and rubbing hard against the top of my left foot. I re-did the lacing so it would fit the curve of my foot top better, and on the second run I didn’t experience any pain, even after riding for 1h.

Tires add a huge lot of friction to the skates, to a point it feels like skating on a … bike. It is not possible to do any kind of slide with them on, so if you try a power slide or power stop, you’ll end up flying in the air.

As a result, a lot of your kinetic energy will be dissipated in the ground, and if you start to skate you’ll quickly slow down and stop. I think it’s a double-edged situation, because if you’re riding on hard surface where you’d probably pickup a lot of speed, then you don’t really need SUV skates. On the other hand, this offers much more control and stability when riding off-road, so you don’t accidentally end up in a tree because you couldn’t break quick enough. Just stop skating and you’ll stop within a few meters.

They are surprisingly manoeuvrable for their size and weight, I was able to make (relatively) short turns, and overall riding in the city was very smooth. I never had the impression I was riding skis for example.

The real deal here is the fact you can get a smooth skating experience over every type of surface. I went over pavements, broken sidewalks, manholes, road, tarmac, gravel and even small potholes and not only I couldn’t feel the difference (vibrations are well absorbed by the inflatable tires), but I kept control in all situations. Not once I felt like I was going to tip or have my wheel stuck in anything, while it was a constant concern when riding my fitness skates.

Accelerating on broken pavement? Sure. Jumping on gravel? Yep. I didn’t try riding on wet surfaces yet, but given the grip they have, I am not worried anymore of clouds passing by.

Update: real-life review

Most video reviews feature paid pro-skaters who use them as skis to go down slopes, but this is not what I had in mind when I bought them. Here is a small video I took on a sunny afternoon, and how they perform on the kind of surfaces I am usually skating over.

Summary

The Renegade 125 skates are a niche product, for people who are tired of only skating 10 days per year when the roads are empty, clean and dry. They require a strong lower body to operate, and can appear frustrating if you expect the “fitness” experience on all surfaces. You’ll get a lot of freedom, but you’ll have to sweat for it.

I think it’s a good compromise between the “nordic” skates and regular fitness skates, and the first few rides were very pleasing. I’ll soon try a longer trail with some forest path to really test them out, but since my original reason for purchasing them was all-weather skating on the Belgian roads, so far I’m very pleased.

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Why openpyxl development is stalled for now

I thought that I could communicate a bit more on why things haven’t seemed to move too much since my last announcement about how openpyxl development was going to rock in 2013.
In January, I turned 30, but I also became pretty sick, and what was first diagnosed as simple cold was in fact a severe viral disease, that left me and my liver in pretty bad shape. I’m now recovering from the virus (while my antibodies count is still hitting the ceiling) but for a whole month I was unable to focus for more than a few hours a day, and even then, only thanks to high doses of drugs to keep the fever at sustainable levels. I chose to invest all the time I had to do my day job and also to try my best to support my wife who is taking care of the kids (I unfortunately failed at the latter :-p).

I’m since then undergoing weekly blood analysis and have a MRI scheduled next month to see how bad my liver is and how to make it recover fully, and in the meantime I’m starting to feel better, but I’m definitely feeling like a cranky 80 years old man after 4PM, and this might last for a period ranging from a few weeks to a few months.

I’ll try to review as many pull requests as my strength enables me to in the coming days, but please bear with me, as everything will get in, but maybe not very fast πŸ˜‰

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I have been silent for a while … this is why 😁

my two sons, born end of August

Apologies to all the people who were awaiting for some openpyxl news, my wife and I have been quite busy those last months πŸ˜‰

Meet Dorian and Gabriel, my two “first borns”. They are in an excellent shape, and their parents as well (well, as much as someone who didn’t sleep a full night for a month can be).

Raising newborn twins being a quite demanding job, I’ve stepped back from my work, and also from my opensource contributions for the moment. Hopefully we start to get used to our new life and I should be able to resume my activities soon.

Wish me good luck ! πŸ™‚

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Making of a mascot

Although I like the current tone of the Adimian website, with the nice black and white contrast, I still feel it needs a more cheerful image, because you can be serious in your job and yet retain some sense of humor.

So I’ve been sharping my Inkscape skills (don’t laugh) and produced this nice fellow:

Actually, I noticed I was wasting plastic cups every day at the coffee machine, so I thought “let’s buy a mug”, and as I don’t like the idea of someone else accidentally drinking in my cup, I then thought I’d better customize it, say with my company logo. It definitely sounded too serious, so I decided to draw a mascot for the company, and to put it on the cup instead.

Took a few hours to get the shape and the colors right, I know he’s plain ugly and any one-handed monkey could have done better, but well, I made it so I’m proud of it πŸ˜‰

Next step: find a printer with large supplies of lime-green ink !

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Working from the couch

Red sofa
Image via Wikipedia

Those days I’m in southern France, in a small (15 sq.meters) flat originally rented for my wife who’s working at the local museum.Even if I’m here to cheer her up, I still have to get some work done, but obviously there is no room for a large desk (nor for any desk actually), an external 24″ monitor, or my beloved wireless keyboard and trackpad.

There is not even a decent table, we have to put our dishes on a stool and eat in the sofa. In those conditions, I’ve been trying two configurations: the standing desk and the lap desk.

The standing desk

Pros

  • trendy
  • good for your back as it preserves the ‘S’ shape of your spine, instead of bending it into a ‘C’ like modern office chairs do
  • looks like a good idea when the only flat surface you have is a 30cmx40cm stand-up kitchen table

Cons

  • 16 hours on your feet is quite a lot of time, especially when you don’t have proper shoes nor proper rubber carpet
  • putting an expensive laptop on top of plastic candy boxes, next to an open window is … stressful

The lap desk

Pros (compared to placing the laptop directly on your lap)

  • comfy, veery comfy
  • prevents lap burns
  • greatly improves wrist position and angle
  • you can move around the house (seated on the couch -> seated on the armchair -> laid on the couch)
  • as the couch/armchair is much softer than the usual office chair, you can stay seated much longer before feeling tired

Cons

  • (not sitting properly in the couch is) bad for your back
  • (being seated too straight in the couch is) bad for your neck
  • (not moving your bum for 4 hours straight is) bad for your knees
  • (not changing your posture for several hours is) bad for your shoulders

As I couldn’t find any affordable cardboard boxes to build my poor man standing desk, I opted for the Logitech N550 lap desk which is an excellent product. It keeps the laptop cool, and the additional speakers have more bass and power than the internal ones. This version is for 14″ laptops at best, the N700 and Comfort Lapdesk are slightly larger, but the foam shape is different (it ends with a ‘^’, while the N550 is like a ‘<‘) and I find it more comfortable this way.

I’ve also looked at different brands and models, but the Logitech are the only ones that I find soft enough and properly engineered, for example, CoolerMaster makes ugly all-plastic stuff intended for overheating laptops, with giant fans, but no foam, no cushion of any kind. Not suitable when you need to work several hours a day.

To avoid neck and shoulders pain, it’s important to be properly seated, and moving around the flat for 1 minute every 2 hours keeps your knees from hurting.

It won’t replace my casual desk at home, but I definitely won’t work with my laptop on my lap anymore, and after one full week in this position, I found that I could work for 4-5 straight hours without notice, like in good days at my office desk. Totally worth it !

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