don't forsake your dreams just because you can't imagine how to achieve them
All my life, I’d shied away from things I couldn’t imagine. My basic feeling had been that if I couldn’t imagine it, it wasn’t a good idea. It was the same with my mother’s illness: imagine the worst and you can protect against it. If you can’t imagine it, then there’s no protection. Not good, not good.

This conviction was behind my renunciation of the artist’s life before I’d begun to live it. I couldn’t imagine how to be an artist in this world. Looking around at my fellow art school students, at the ones we all knew were going to make it, I couldn’t imagine pleasing the bigwigs from the galleries and museums, the fashion-makers who organized biennials. I couldn’t see myself schmoozing the way the class stars did, flattering older artists and seedy has-been critics to try to wangle an opening for their own advancement. I saw them at it and I couldn’t picture myself doing it. I could have rattled off the bullshit about fragmentation and identity and the tropes of gender, whatever the fuck they are, and Roland Barthes and Judith Butler and Mieke Bal—I could do that, they taught us how to do it, that’s what art school seemed mostly to be for, but I couldn’t do it with a straight face and I couldn’t even imagine doing it with a straight face, and that’s why I went to get my master’s in Education and appeared to myself and to the world to have forsaken my one dream.

-- The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud

What would it mean if the first thing we learned about anything were totally different?
"What does it mean, you see, that the first thing every American child knows about Germany is Hitler? What if the first thing you knew was something else? And maybe some people would say that now it's important, after the Second World War, its ethical and vital that Hitler is the first thing a child knows. But someone else can argue the opposite. and what would it do, how would it change things, if nobody were allowed to know anything about Hitler, about the war, about any of it, until first they learned about Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, about Hegel and Lessing and Fichte, about Schopenhauer, about Rilke - but all this, you had to know first. Or one thing only, the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, or the Goldeberg Variations, or Laocoön - one of those things you had to know and appreciate before you learned about the Nazis."
"But the world doesn't work like that."
"No, it doesn't." He smiled in that vague way, as if amused by a joke only he had heard. "But what does it mean that it doesn't? And what would it mean if it did?"

-- The Woman Upstairs

The vision of selfishness
No, obviously what strength was all along was the ability to say "Fuck off" to the lot of it, to turn your back on all the suffering and contemplate, unmolested, your own desires above all. Men have generations of practice at this. Men have figured out how to spawn children and leave them to others to raise, how to placate their mothers with a mere phone call from afar, how to insist, as calmly as if insisting that the sun is in the sky, as if any other possibility were madness, that their work, of all things, is what must - and must first - be done. Such a strength has, in its youthful vision, no dogs or gardens or picnics, no children, no sky: it is focused only on one thing, whether it's on money, or on power, or on a paintbrush and a canvas. It's a failure of vision, in fact, anyone with half a brain can see that. It's myopia. But that's what it takes.  You need to see everything else - everyone else - as expendables, as less than yourself.
-- "The Woman Upstairs", Claire Messud

task management system at work
//First of all, what the blooming hell happened to LiveJournal? Ugly ugly ugly.

I've been experimenting with various task systems and apps for the past year or so. Well, I've always been somewhat fascinated with task management - that's what reading Lifehacker does to you! - but I've never really had proper opportunity to use one.
Funny, it should have been an integral part of all my IS projects but somehow we just never did... One of my profs had this obsession with GTD but I spent more time laughing at his physical label makers and endless folders that I've never quite dived in.
Since we're in agency work, projects for me change on a monthly basis. I typically handle 2 or 3 active projects at any point in time, am the backup for 2 or 3 projects by other colleagues, and would also have 1 or 2 'latent' projects that I'm not actively working on but still take care of from time to time.

I find that I like to have multiple time views of my tasks: today, tomorrow, this week, next week, this month, and next month. The first category speaks for itself pretty easily. For tasks that are not crucial (which usually mean due TODAY anyway) but need to be done reasonalby soon (within these two weeks), I  would rather than set arbitrary dates.

The problem with most task management apps is that once you've set a due date, it works as if that's the day you should work on it - rather than "the date you must complete it by, but you have from now till then to do your thing".

I've been predominantly using Kanbanery because I found it to be one of the most flexible task apps. My "Columns" are based on these time views, and they have labels called "Task Types" (which you can colour, although the colour picker is a bit finicky to play with) which I use to denote the project names. I like that I can drag task items up and down or across columns quite easily. I have another column called "Pending" under which I'll park task items that I'm waiting for others to get back to me on.

Some things that are a bit annoying about Kanbanery:

  • Although I'm not big on setting due dates, I think reminder notifications would be pretty useful for about 30% of the tasks. Especially for the Pending stuff, so I can remember when to hound others.

  • Adding / deleting / changing task types involves a lot of navigating and mouse clicking.

  • No Android support. Not a dealbreaker but it'll be nice to have.

I'm also considering that Gantt charts might be helpful to denote phases in my projects. i don't want to indicate these on my regular calendar as it's cluttered enough by appointments already. Gantt timelines can also be a way for me to break down tasks that have a lot of back-and-forth with other parties. But when it comes to bite-sized tasks, indicating them on Gantt seems overkill!

Anyway, I finally started hunting for free Gantt webapps and I was recommended an Asana + Instagantt workaround. Asana, I gotta admit is pretty slick.

What I like about Asana

  • Google log-in means I don't have to think about more sign-up info

  • Interface is quite clean

  • Has mobile app if I were to require it

  • Sub-tasks are full-featured: you can specify due date and description, and if you're crazy enough you can break these sub-tasks into smaller sub-tasks..

  • Decent filters that tangentially address my preferred time views.

  • Can connect to Instagantt 3rd-party app

Annoyances about Asana:

  • Projects can't have colours assigned so other than the background, everything else looks kinda bleak. Bleah! Colours are really helpful as a visual cue.

  • Modifying attributes for sub-tasks involves way too many clicks and Asana is a little slow to load. Okay, a lot of things require more clicks than I would like

  • The task details pane tracks every single action (e.g. changing due date) you make which adds to clutter.

  • Can't wrap my head around what the "Upcoming" status is all about.

  • Or why you can make a task a "Priority Heading". Or how a  I don't really know what the intended use case is, since you can already Star a task. It looks like a category, and you can also create a "Priority Heading" without first creating a task.

  • Keyboard shortcuts are awkward.

  • The shortcut for creating a new task doesn't take into account the project you're in so you can often accidentally create tasks without projects. And it's hard to find these things.

I really wanted to like Asana. It's definitely feature rich and has a lot going for it. Apparently it's also used by cool startups like Uber, Dropbox and Pinterest and hey, if they think this is a big deal, I would too - right? But perhaps my needs are a little different. I think the nature of my work requires more flexibility other than the standard task management/collaboration system. I mean, how many people do you know that want to play around with Gantt without involving teams? And Kanban boards don't seem to have taken off that much either.

Anyway, here's a wishlist of not-so-commonly-requested things I'd also like to see:

  • A very flexible "due date" system that will allow me to set a range like "this week". It's just more intuitive to think and hit a "this week" button than to manually select the date for that week's Friday. Okay, Any.Do had the feature but I hated the app. 

  • I would like to be able to virtually assign tasks to others - purely for my own reference. Currently, you can only assign tasks by first inviting others to the system. Haven't found any webapps/software that don't require this.

  • Ability to set Gmail msgs (not the whole thread) as tasks, with or without due dates. - Any.Do was clunky but I suppose I shld try Boomerang!

  • Time reminders - a lot of times, I get deadlines to send something within the day so this would be very helpful.

PS. I have tried Any.Do twice and still vehemently hate it. But I can't articulate it well even to myself. Maybe I should give it one last chance?

The bunch of friends that I've been meeting a couple of times a week: I definitely hadn't expected all of us to click so well. When it all started in December? January? I wouldn't have seen it coming. Staying up all night and waking up at ungodly hours, wolfing through lunch to meet up under the blazing sun during our precious lunch breaks, and walking everywhere tirelessly all in the pursuit of this crazy shared interest. Then that initial common goal started to wane, but surprisingly, all our ridiculous jokes and our serendipitous common love of food kept us close knit. We've celebrated several birthdays. We've dragged ourselves out for no purpose other than to just 'chill' without doing anything in particular.

So as someone said this morning, "thanks for being around.". 

At some point, 140 words do begin to seem insufficient so... guess what? I'm back. Sort of.

One 'small' event stuck in my mind the whole day. The air-conditioner servicing crew came by our office this afternoon. I have never paid particular attention to them, only caring that my stuff do not get soiled by whatever dirt/dust might fall below when they remove the filters, and making sure that my barang don't get stopped on accidentally. That was never a problem - until today. The guy who came to my table was impatient; we used to take what feels like a good 20min to half an hour to get the whole office checked, but they were gone in the blink of an eye; and the crew also left a mess in our bathroom from the clean-up.

V commented that the previous contractors used to carry out such a thorough job, vacuuming away particles in addition to cleaning the filters, and even turned on and off the units to check for drips. I whined about how I was moving away my newspapers (the pile of stuff to check/clip is always thicker on Mondays!) out of harm's way but the impatient one still trampled all over them, and just didn't comprehend that they weren't simply rubbish on the floor. Then we lamented that these new contractors just weren't up to the mark.

First world problems, huh? We've always made much respect to our cleaning lady and to our previous karang guni, but somehow we've always taken the air-conditioner servicing people and photocopier servicing people for granted. Why is that? And looking back at how miffed I was about my newspapers, it came to me that perhaps this incident arose because of cultural/occupational differences. To this labourer, newspapers were probably just things to protect floors/tables from dirt or stuff to be thrown out. It probably didn't occur to him that these were part of work for us. Little wonder then, that when I asked him to stop so I can take my stuff, he inadvertently stepped over the papers again as he made way for me. 

what happened to lull periods?
When I first started work and stayed back quite a lot about half the time, I thought that perhaps that was a tight period.

But this year, it seems like there's no letting up. The week before last, I'd promised myself I'd leave by 7. Well, last week I did manage to somewhat hover around that range, leaving about 7.30pm on most nights.

And this week, it's "business as usual".

I suspect the only "lull period" would be end of year when Christmas comes and no one wants to work. But that's such a long way away. )=

Looking through the photos here suddenly makes me miss Canada. Sorta wonder if we would have felt better, moved on with our lives, if we had indeed bought that gorgeous house.

It was so far in and so out of the way when it comes to public transport, but it was such a magnificent house with a beautiful tranquil view of the woods, that I almost considered it possible to live there.

Making time to be sick
Taking medical leave tomorrow to clear a bunch of medical to-do items off my list. It still sounds ridiculous to me to have to "time" my sick leave, but I gotta admit, it's inevitable. Unless the illness is truly debilitating, it's so much more trouble than it's worth to take leave on a day where you've got tastings or meeting to attend to. You just can't let yourself fall ill when it's inconvenient - even if you know something's round the corner, denial is the order of the day.

My eyes did not use to be so bothersome. I'm really at a loss as to why I keep getting eye infections of the blue these days. One of my bosses suggested hives, but it doesn't seem like it, and I haven't been eating anything out of the ordinary, so chances of this being a food allergy seems rather slim too. It's just so annoying when I have the squint the whole day because my eyelids are swollen. Grrr. Well, I've never enjoyed putting on eye make up anyway, and I'm even more wary of it with this issue.

I would much prefer to go for TCM for this and my worsening sinus problem, but I do need a referral to the National Skin Centre for (gasp!) other skin issues so I'm stuck with a visit to the polyclinic. )= And I should (that's the key word) make an appointment chez dentiste to get my on-again-off-again toothache checked but I think my medical budget for the year will not be able to take it. Bleah!

America's Test Kitchen
A Tour of America's Test Kitchen

I want want want want to work there! If only there were such facilities here in Singapore too, that test things so rigorously for Asian recipes and with products found here. Or if at least I can buy some of their discarded products during their sales. Boo!


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