02 June 2017

Print selection only in Chrome

Maybe you already know about "Print selection only" in Chrome.  But it changed my life today.

I wanted to print only a part of a web page.  Usually, I tweak the pages but then it spans pages and it's confusing to get just the pages I want.  Or if I got desperate, I would copy/paste into a text editor and print that instead (after reformatting all the copy/paste noise away).  Instead of all that nonsense, I found a better way.

Here's how to do it:
  1. Select the text you want to print (in Chrome)
  2. Click Print (or press Ctrl-P or Cmd-P on Mac)
  3. Click "More Settings" in the Chrome print dialog
  4. Select the "Selection only" box
  5. Adjust "Scale" to get it on the right number of pages (1 page usually)
Then print and you can move on with your life.  I love how simple it is.  Hopefully you benefit from this.

30 May 2017

Intractable Problems

Getting into the state of mental flow leads to enjoyment for me.  Whether it's playing a lively game of Monopoly with my kids, or playing/coaching an engaging soccer match, or developing the next feature for FamilySearch -- all of the above activities are more enjoyable when I spend a lot of time in the state of mental flow.

There's a book about this, and I still would like to read it at some point.  But today's post is not primarily about flow.

There are times when I know that a state of mental flow is possible, and desirable, but I can't seem to enter that state.  Maybe I'm meaning to write in my journal but the thing I want to write about is an unresolved problem of some importance to me, and I go into immediate problem solving instead of writing about it.  Maybe I'm trying to get going on a project outside but I'm exhausted from not getting enough sleep the night before.  Maybe I'm attempting to learn something new at work and there is too much new all at once.

Today I realized that when I have problems entering the state of mental flow, it's because I'm stuck trying to solve intractable problems.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_complexity_theory

Here are a few "intractable" problems I've faced recently:

  • Which task would be most helpful for me to work on first this morning?
  • What is important to deal with after a trip, and what can be dropped?
  • Who can I get to help set up flags on Memorial Day?
  • How can I get uninterrupted time to spend with my wife?
  • What can I do to increase the likelihood of my son wanting to work with me outside?
The truth is the above problems are only "intractable" when attempted in a certain mental state that treats these decision problems as personal tasks.

Hint: It takes social skill & action to answer all of the above questions effectively.  And while the social skill can be learned, if you approach the above problems by thinking that they are personal tasks to be completed, they will by definition be intractable.

A useful word is "stall".  Some definitions, glosses, examples:

So when you feel yourself get into a stall, think what intractable problem you are trying to solve.  And if it's a problem that needs social skills to solve, reach out for help.  Figure out what skills you need to develop and improve your abilities.

03 May 2017

HELP: Happy, Evolving, Learning, Productive - Journaling template

Sometimes I go to write in my journal after lots has happened, and I find myself at a loss.  Too much has happened, I don't know what's important to record, it's all a jumble.  So I end up staring out the window and attempting a half-baked job of mentally processing things.

Here is a set of headings in an attempt to provide a skeleton for my journaling:
  • H: Happenings
  • E: Evolutions / Progress
  • L: Learnings
  • P: Plans
Or described more fully:
  • H: just neutral reporting on what random stuff has been going on
  • E: progress reports on things that have moved forward in some significant way in the last while
  • L: what you've recently learned that sticks out to you
  • P: what's coming up that has your attention
In an attempt at finding a mnemonic for HELP, I came up with the following:
  • H: Happy
  • E: Evolving
  • L: Learning
  • P: Productive
And here are some more detailed descriptions of the emotional states in the mnemonic:
  • H: just starting to write can keep you happier than not, see this post
  • E: highlighting progress, however small, turns into a sense of gratitude for me
  • L: seeing that I'm still learning is encouraging to me
  • P: putting rough plans on paper has a reassuring effect, and helps me move forward
Those adjectives have enough affinity to the headings that it might help me to remember them, and enough positive energy to help them to stick in my mind.

29 January 2017

Worry is a Signal, Not an Activity

"You look down today, what's going on?" my wife says when I get home from work.  I answer, "I don't know, I was just worrying about this project at work." What's wrong with this picture?

The mental error is that I was treating worry like an activity instead of treating it like a signal.  It's all about the self talk.  When there is some outstanding issue that needs attention, it is easy to jump straight to thinking about the issue, even though you can't really do anything about it at the moment.  The reality is that if I'm going to resolve the outstanding issue, I need my computer open, I need to talk with a team member to figure things out.  I need to write some code or run a query to see where things stand.

But if I attempt to sort things out mentally while I don't have everything I need to make progress on an issue, it's easy to spin my wheels and fall helplessly into a non-productive mental loop.

On the other hand, if the "outstanding issue" thought comes into my mind, and I call it worry (which it is), and instead of holding onto that thought, if I treat it like a signal, like an alarm bell, like a red light, then that frees me up to act on the signal.  Instead of treating the "outstanding issue" thought as an activity waiting to be engaged in, if I treat it as an self-alert, then I can move to deal with it at a later, more appropriate time.

The question becomes: "What action can I take right now to make sure that the outstanding issue is dealt with at the appropriate time and place?"  Maybe make a reminder on an index card and put it in my work pants pocket.  Maybe make a reminder on my phone.  Maybe send myself a memory jogger in email.  Maybe write a card and stick it in the Trello / Getting Things Done inbox.  It just needs to be something that I am confident will get my attention and lead me down the right mental path at the time when I know I will have resources to deal with the issue.

Any time spent on worry as an activity (beyond dealing with the reminder for the future time/place) I now believe to be worse than a total waste.  Not just worthless time spent, but also a drag on the rest of my life.  Any unnecessary, anxiety-provoking activity drags me down, makes me less capable of living my life in a worthwhile, enjoyable way.

Why did I not see this earlier in my life?  What could I have done to have learned this earlier in my adolescent / adult experience?

28 January 2017

Where I've been

It took a long while, but I believe I'm back after a knee surgery in 2015, after releasing / launching a new tree database for FamilySearch in the last half of 2016, and after coming through a difficult transition into a more positive life.

Thanks to my family who supported me (especially my wife), my friends and co-workers who were patient with me, and those who have waited for me to be a bit more positive and responsive in life.

11 July 2016

PTSD After Large Release

I don't like releasing large chunks of software at once, but there are situations where it's easier to swap out a large piece of interdependent pieces than it is to replace them piecemeal.

Except you have to make it through the release.

I worked on replacing the Family Tree database on familysearch.org with a new one.  Old was Oracle, new was Cassandra.

It started at 12:30am and extended, with various emergencies that were handled more or less gracefully by amazing people, until 6:21am.  And then it was done, and we had to start keeping it up.

After a few surprises that none of our simulations exposed, I have enough rest again and can function more or less normally.

However, the anxiety I felt during the release and the uncertainty I felt in the days just afterwards all added up to a feeling I don't remember feeling before.

Then I realized that the flashbacks and the irrational worry about keeping things working - probably some mild form of post-traumatic stress.

Certainly only a taste of what others go through who were in danger of losing their life and barely survived.  Not trying to imply that my experience is anywhere near that sort of thing.

I'm just trying to process my emotions and am hopeful this helps someone know they're not alone.