July 25, 2008

The calendar is ticking…

…probably because the travel clock is next to it. But I am also nearing the end of my PhD. I’ve set myself the deadline of eight weeks from today to get everything done, signified by a hard deadline of when I move out of my the postgrad college I’m living at. That gives me 56 days to finish up my PhD write up, as shown by the countdown calendar I’m using to constantly remind me what time I’ve got left. I’ve still got a lot to do, but I figure it’s enough time to get everything done. Now I’ve got a fixed deadline I’ll feel better about cutting things to get it finished.

Once my time is up I’ll be heading back to Melbourne to the family house to crash for a month or two while I figure out what to do next. I’ll probably spend a lot of the first month alternating between holiday and catching up with stuff I’ve let slide for the last year or two, such as watching any film released in the last couple of years, ditto for computer games and checking what’s changed in Melbourne since I left it. Then I can start the next chapter of my life. I’m planning on factoring in some game development and webcomics in there somewhere, but we’ll see.

Thus I’m hoping to get this journal back up into to speed some time in late September, but I’ll probably get things really going in late October once I’ve had time to settle down. I’m looking forward to that, but until then though I’ve got a dissertation to finish. Expect my sanity to be increasingly strained in the next couple of months.

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May 18, 2008

Fighting the winter slump

Despite wanting to make an effort in updating this journal, it seems I’ve once again let it stagnate for a while as life churns on. Unfortunately I’ve been strapped for energy the last week or two and this is shown in my level of creative output in all areas.

Part of this has been due to the tutoring and lab demonstrating I’ve been doing the last couple of months, but that’s now all but over bar the marking. It’s been a pretty good run, although I felt I didn’t have as firm a grasp of the material as I’d hoped. Fourth year subjects are always a bit like that; I prefer first or second year where you know the subject well enough to focus on the actual teaching methods rather than understanding the material yourself.

The tutoring ran on a one week on, one week off basis, which meant every other week I’d have time to focus on my own thesis write-up. But the weeks on tended to be dominated by the teaching, and on the days where I’d take a three hour lab class in the evening I wouldn’t have energy to do much more than watch DVDs or sleep.

Plus there’s always winter to factor in. My metabolism always seems to switch into hibernation mode when the weather gets too cold. It didn’t help that the season just seemed to toggle from a particularly warm autumn overnight; the maximum temperatures seemed to drop by 15 degrees Celsius.

The upshot of the winter months is that if I’m not careful I tend to spend the bulk of my time daydreaming or idling surfing Wikipedia or TV Tropes for hours if not days at a time (TV Tropes is particularly bad for this). Sometimes hours seem to pass me by without me noticing them go. It’s a dangerous habit to get into, and it’s something I’ll need to force myself to break if I’m going to get anything done.

This week I’m going to attempt to break the winter slump by forcing myself to remain active and productive despite a lack of energy, even if this just involves writing posts for my blog like I am now. It beats passively reading wiki pages!

I’m also going to spend a little bit of time putting in some preparation work for my webcomic project. To recap: I’ve pledged to myself to start a webcomic some time this year as an outlet for improving my own drawing and writing skills. I tend to idly doodle cartoon while I’m watching DVDs, but without some project to give me direction I haven’t really improved much in the last couple of years. Due to my lack of focus the last week I’ve churned out dozens of pages of sketches that are all pretty terrible, so I mean to start putting some of that time into actual improvement.

I’ll also start posting more entries here about webcomics in general to help me put my thoughts together. Part of my problem at the moment is that I haven’t made up my mind what kind of webcomic I should be aiming for. I’ve got a bunch of conflicting goals, desires and time constraints for this. Putting some time into writing this down will be a good way to put things into focus.

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April 24, 2008

No Involvement with the Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic torch is passing through Canberra at the moment (it’s probably finished its public tour by now). I’m not entirely sure why, given it’s a bit of a detour from the path between Greece and Beijing. I suppose it’s to help build support for the Olympics, but it’s not as if you need much hype for such a major sporting event in sport-mad Australia. Especially since it’s being held in roughly the same time zone as us.

I didn’t bother going to see the torch, as it’s not exactly super important to me. Given this is Canberra, it’d be attended by a mix of Chinese nationals and supporters (we’ve got a big multicultural mix here), combined with the protest groups for Tibet or Falun Gong that seem to have permanently camped outside the Chinese embassy. I doubt there’ll be any violence, but the whole show just doesn’t seem like my kind of thing.

Apart from not doing anything regarding the Olympic torch, which unsurprisingly has not taken a lot of effort, I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking ahead for what I’m going to do with the website after I complete my studies in a couple of months time. I’m most likely to be wrapping up my Ph.D. thesis write-up in June, but I have not yet got anything definite planned for after that.

I’ve still got dreams of starting my own on-line game business; selling indie games over the ‘net to make a living. I’ve got plans for how I could get that up and running, but it’s not without a whole truck load of risk. I’d probably be burning through my savings pretty quickly for the first year at least. So the question I’m debating is whether I go for broke by running with the online business idea full time, head into a more traditional career path, or (my current favoured option) a blend of some type of possibly part-time employment that also allows me to run the online business on the side.

This isn’t something I’m going to decide upon very soon. I’ve still got a couple of months left before I’m done here, and it wouldn’t be amiss taking a couple of months holiday afterwards. I’m moderately astute at saving money up for a rainy day, so it’s not as if I’m going to be begging for scraps this year, at least. But it is something that now the end of my formal education is nigh I’ve got to keep bubbling around in my mind so I make a decently informed decision.

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March 12, 2008

Back in front of the whiteboard

Geez, I’ve been meaning to put many more posts in this journal this year, but I keep forgetting to get round to it. I guess it’s partly because I haven’t been up to anything that interesting, with the exception of some of the Python work I’ve chronicling over at my GameDev.net journal (under Trapper Zoid, if you aren’t from there originally).

Today I’ve started teaching tutorials and labs again, after a several year break. It’s a way to refresh the ol’ teaching skills - and the extra cash will be handy too. Today went a bit badly by my view - nothing disasterous by any means, and I’d probably view it as okay back when I was younger, but given I’ve got experience at tutoring I should’ve been a bit peppier and more prepared. Unfortunately though the content of the tutorials isn’t very fixed until right up before I teach them and I’ve been up early in the morning most nights the last month so I’m pretty fatigued (up to three last night preparing for this weeks classes, an hour later than usual).

Hopefully the rest of the week’s teaching will go better now I’ve had one to learn from, but I’m too exhausted tonight to do any extra replanning.

Incidentally, if any of you need to know tips on computer vision, as a tutor I should be up to speed in a month or two ;)

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February 21, 2008

Birthday Boy

Today I turn thirty. I thought that was important enough to warrant a post in my journal.

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January 25, 2008

All Macced Up

I’ve (finally) got my MacBook Pro back, now with Leopard. The techs said it didn’t show and problems with the new OS, so I’m hoping it’ll be a lot more usable and a lot less crashy now. So far I’ve been using it a fair amount and it’s had one lock up - one too many perhaps, particularly due to the behaviour it showed (screen backlight went out, required hard reboot to fix) but I’ll see if it’s a reaccuring problem. For now I’ve installed a widget to control the MacBook fans and am running them at higher rates than normal - my hunch is that with all the fixes this particular MacBook as had that something might be overheating, so with some extra airflow it might be more stable. We’ll see if that proves true.

I’ve also placed an order for a 20″ iMac to replace my beige box PC. I like Mac OS X as an operating system and it’ll be great to have a desktop capable of running it and Mac apps; I think it’ll make a better workstation than my current computer. I also sprung for the wireless keyboard and mouse, mainly because Apple forces you to get a keyboard and mouse and I’ve already got a wired version of their new aluminium keyboard. I might go back to using the wired model and a corded mouse (the Mighty Mouse is weird, although it does have a nifty horizontal scrolling function), but it’d be useful to have the wireless models as an option for a cluttered desk.

I spent ages deciding between the 20″ and 24″ models; the 24″ looks impressive, and the LCD panel is of noticeably higher quality, but I decided to get the 20″ so I can pair it up with a second display; the 24″ is a bit big for that. To start with I’ll stick with just the iMac, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a good deal on a top notch LCD display to go with it. The Mac1 Apple reseller in Canberra often has firesales where they slash the price of a good-as-new Apple Cinema Display by about a third; so I’ll pounce next time that comes around.

A minor annoyance is that I won’t have a copy of Windows for a while, so I won’t be able to run Win software until I get a license I can use. I might give WINE a go to see how well it runs under Mac OS X, but I’m foreseeing problems. Still, at the moment not being able to run PC games can be considered a benefit; gives me one less thing to be distracted by.

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January 22, 2008

Dribs and drabs for the next few months

On the weekend I spent a bit of time estimating how I can fit my Ph.D. program, webcomic project and game programming alongside each other for the next couple of months. My conclusion is that I can’t - not extensively, at least. For the next few months at least I can’t really set any deadlines or milestones except for those involving my studies.

While I am still going to work on both cartooning and game programming as a break from my work, I am not going to be setting any targets or projects until my Ph.D. is over; I just don’t have the energy for it. As far as I can see, I don’t think I’ve got the time to work on anything substantial until about April - not unless I want to give up sleep.

This might be for the best, as it’ll give me some time to work slowly on building up my skills rather than feeling pressured to rush things out. While I really wanted to launch my webcomic early this year, I feel I can’t really warrant the time to do so until I’ve got my Ph.D. thesis off my back. Instead I can put the extra few months into more planning, getting my drawing skills up to scratch and getting familiar with the tools available. Likewise, instead of working on any decent sized game I can use the time to get to grips with Python and Flash without feeling guilty about not releasing anything.

Of course I’m still not sure if I’ll have the time after I’m done, because it’s still up in the air of what I’m going to do when all this is over. I’m hoping a month’s holiday isn’t out of the question.

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January 17, 2008

A post for posting’s sake

I’ve been feeling guilty about letting my journal stand idle for so long, so it’s time for a general update. It’s not as if I haven’t been busy, it’s more an issue of not really meeting any milestones that I felt were worthy of posting about.

Mainly I’ve been writing up my thesis dissertation, which is an exercises fraught with writer’s block and bad grammar. It’s a painful process that’s moving slower than I’d like, but it’s starting to come together. Hopefully it’ll be in a better position by the end of the week.

As a break from writing I’ve started working through some beginner Python exercises. Python looks like a nice language for quick development, and with a Tk library built it it’s probably a good platform for home brew GUIs and tools. I haven’t yet figured out the best way to approach building applications or games in Python; I still haven’t done anything sizable enough to get to grips with the language. I’m puzzling over the best way to get from a Python dabbler through to building proper Python programs.

I’m also chipping away at my webcomic project, which may have come a little off the rails too. I find it a lot of fun developing characters, sketching out what they look like and getting a broad idea of their personality. But I might have reached the point where the combination of what I’ve got doesn’t really make sense. My idea about the whole premise of the comic has shifted multiple times over the last few weeks, and I’m not sure if the stuff I was doing a fortnight ago works with what I’ve been doodling now. I may need to take a step back and ruthlessly prune what I’ve got to something that actually works as a comic premise.

Also, I haven’t got my MacBook Pro back yet; will be picking it up sometime in the next day or two. I think the verdict from the repairers was that there’s some bizarre conflict between Mac OS Tiger and my machine, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The laptop was working fine with Tiger before the screen blew the backlight, and I don’t know how replacing that could cause a hardware conflict. But if upgrading to Leopard seems to fix the problem (and their tests seem to suggest it does) then it might be enough of a reason to upgrade so I can get my working Mac computer back.

I’m also keen on getting an iMac sometime soon as a desktop replacement, although I don’t as of yet know exactly which hardware configuration is best for me. I mainly would like a second Mac with a better screen on my desk so I can use that when working at home. My current Windows PC is okay for what I used to use it for, but it doesn’t run my Adobe CS3 software or VoodooPad, plus my CRT monitor is positively ancient now. When MacWorld is over I’ll start making the decisions I need to choose a desktop replacement.

For now, that’s all. I’ll post more regularly in 2008 so I can get my money’s worth out of this site. I also need to replace this long running poll with something a bit more topical; first I need to think of what I’d like to ask.

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January 4, 2008

Macbook Saga Revisited

I got my MacBook Pro back yesterday with a new hard drive. With Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) and a copy of my applications installed it seems, but [i]not[/i] my project and work directories for some reason (which thankfully I’m mostly sure I’ve got backed up).

Since I only own Tiger (Mac OS 10.4) I decided to wipe the hard drive and start afresh (plus most of my apps did not like their forced change of OSes). But unfortunately, after I had a fresh install of Tiger I found that the new hard drive did not fix my problem - it still randomly reboots. So I’m without my MacBook Pro for a few more days at least.


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January 2, 2008

New Year 2008

Happy New Year, and welcome to year 2008! Wishing you all a very good year.

I’m back from visiting family in Melbourne. I had a reasonably good time just hanging out with my family; I had plans to get some hobby stuff done while I was away but it never got around to happening. This was partly due to the weather; the temperature got pretty hot late in December and I lost all energy to do anything.

The presents I gave were well appreciated (mostly printed books of webcomics), and I got some nice gifts myself; mainly books and DVDs, although I did also get a new mobile phone. The phone was free with part of a new package, and seeing that my old plan is pretty old now it seemed a good idea to upgrade. It’s a Nokia 6300, and looking around at the included files it seems to be Flash Lite compatible which gives me another platform to potentially develop for. Great!

It’s probably going to take me a few days to get back into working, but I’m going to be pretty flat out with work for the next three or four months. My PhD scholarship runs out in late March, and I’m hoping to finish off my research by then or April at the latest (so I don’t have to scrounge for money to finish my degree). Consequently things might get a bit hectic over the short term. Plus I’ve still got to arrange something for after I graduate; it still seems an eternity away but it really isn’t that far off.

I’m still going to try to put some time in hobbies (I’ll need an outlet to keep sane), but I don’t expect to be able to put too much time into anything over the next few months.

As it’s the New Year, it’s also time for New Year Resolutions. This year I’ve got two: improving time management and my own health.

Time management is something I’ve had trouble with all my life, and this year I don’t really have time to spare. I keep feeling annoyed with myself for squandering my time, and this year I’m setting it as my prime goal to fix this. I’m hoping by the end of the year to feel satisfied with my delegation of time to tasks.

Secondly I’m going to make an effort in improving my own health, which I feel has been slipping over the last year. I’ve been slowly gaining weight and getting a bit flabby, and this is resulting in me generally not feeling my best and having low energy. As I’m nearing middle age I’ve got to put more effort into looking after myself, so I’ll try to cook more, skip more of the unhealthy foods and most importantly get some more exercise.

I’ve also got to decide what I’m going to do with this website. It’s been languishing a bit over the last month or two. I’ll need to put some more stuff up here too.

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