Browse Month

May 2020

Remote Routines

It’s been about two and a half months since I started working from home, and I think I’d describe it as better than I expected, but still less than ideal. A tip I’ve suggested to my teammates to help maintain productivity while working from home is to establish a daily routine.

I’m aware of this in theory, but haven’t been as good at adhering to this in practice. The availability of meals in the office resulted in a natural routine: I would eat breakfast in the office before the workday started, and would normally finish most development work before dinner. I’d sometimes write documentation or polish up a test after dinner, but usually the post-dinner work would be less intense. This wasn’t true for everyone, of course (one could elect to skip breakfast and/or have dinner at home), but it was for me. I also set up my laptop to remind me at 8 pm to ask myself if I should stop for the day, and in any case an empty office was useful as a reminder that it was late, and that I perhaps should no longer be around.

Initially, I did follow this: I marked the start of the day with a short walk to the local M&S before breakfast. However, things started degrading over time. I think much of this was in relation to wanting to get as much sleep as possible before meetings or work started. I’m not sure what precipitated that; I imagine that would probably be a late night, perhaps caused by some combination of working late and getting distracted with reading, computer games or something else. I’ve been reading Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle, and I do remember a recent evening where I started trying to craft a triple of linked Sudoku variants that weren’t independently solvable, but had a unique solution taken together at 9.30 pm or so, and finished at 1.30 am.

It’s probably related, but I noticed that I’ve recently been working longer hours – with reduced time outside of work it’s invariably tempting to push one’s sleep backwards, even if doing so may have undesirable consequences. I normally have a 2.5-3 km walking commute to the office (and interestingly this is what is currently recommended by the government), which takes me about 30 minutes at a reasonably quick pace. This is between 45 minutes and 1 hour each day (I almost always walk in the morning, but sometimes take the Tube in the evening) of time that seems to be mostly converted into development time. I guess this is a benefit of working from home if one holds one’s hours constant (that said, my commute also has exercise benefits for me).

Some of this might also be because I’ve started doing more independent development work again (there was a time where I spent <20% time on this, while it’s probably between 30 and 40 percent now). It’s now actually possible and directly relevant to my goals to make larger independent pushes. This is intellectually welcome though I do need to be careful about how far I take this.

I’ve also been getting more sleep for some reason. This may be a product of increased mental fatigue. In addition to development work, the hobbies I’ve been spending time on recently – reading, logic puzzles, learning German and some computer games – are generally quite taxing.

I normally get about 7.5 hours of sleep during the week, and maybe 8.5-9 or so on weekends. I think the amount of sleep I’ve been getting from Sunday to Thursday hasn’t really changed, but I don’t seem to feel as well-rested as normal. In terms of weekend schedules, I do remember an abnormally high frequency of 10- or 11-hour sleeps as of late.

There are definitely advantages to working from home – it can be better for focusing on specific difficult problems, and not having to do a 30 minute commute is a big win (and is possibly a bigger win for others). I’m not sure I would want to, though, given the choice, perhaps not for fault of the concept in general, but instead because I haven’t had the willpower, knowledge, or some other factor needed to thrive on it. There are also other frustrations: video-conferencing while passable still seems frictionful, and while I’m an introvert even I find the lack of human contact unsustainable.

Learning German 7: Fremdsprachen und Computer (Foreign Languages and Computers)

In der A1 “Start Deutsch 1” Prüfung muss man in das Schreiben-Teil ein Formular ausfüllen, z. B. ein Anmeldeformular für eine Sprachschule, oder eine Reisebuchungformular. Obwohl ich darin eine sehr gute Note bekam, bin ich noch nicht sicher, Formulare auf Deutsch auszufüllen. Ich würde immer noch Englisch benutzen, weil ich Missverständnisse vermeiden möchten. Auf der anderen Seite, das Spielen von Computerspielen hat am meistens weniger Konsequenzen, wenn man Fehler machen. Ich spielte ein paar Spiele auf Deutsch mit meinen Freunde, darunter “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” und “Tick Tock: A Tale for Two”. In diesen Spiele ist gute und klare Kommunikation sehr wichtig. Wir machte viel Spaß, obwohl wir waren viel langsamer als wenn wir Englisch benutzte.

One has to fill in a form in the writing part of the German A1 (“Start Deutsch 1”) exam, for example a registration form for a language school or a travel booking form. Although I got a very good mark there, I’m still not confident filling in forms in German. I would still prefer to use English, because I would want to avoid any misunderstandings. On the other hand, playing computer games mostly has fewer consequences when one makes mistakes. I played a few games with my friends in German, including “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” and “Tick Tock: A Tale for Two”. Good and clear communication is very important in these games. We had a lot of fun, even though we were much slower than if we used English.

A suggestion I’ve come across fairly often as part of language learning is to set one’s computer’s language to the target language. The aim here is likely to achieve immersion: one will see the language as part of one’s daily activities. Admittedly, the vocabulary one comes across is likely to be fairly domain specific (one will probably very quickly learn what the word for close or delete are – in German schließen and löschen respectively), but it does still likely cover a fair few common phrases and expressions that might be useful. For example, I have to think a bit to translate how to play (Spielanleitung or Wie man spielt, probably not the direct Wie zu spielen), while that would probably come very quickly to someone who did this.

As the previous sentence implied, I did not do this. I did try it briefly, but ran into enough frustrating issues that I switched my laptop back to English. I think the main issue wasn’t that I found the system unusable, but it did considerably slow things down. Many websites presented content, forms and questions to me in German (it’s possible this is my failure and/or I went for even more immersion when I changed the language settings), and I needed to read them really closely to be sure of precisely what I was doing. For example, I remember being asked, when booking a flight to Switzerland, Brauchen Sie aufgegebenes Gepäck? (Do you need checked baggage?) I knew Gepäck meant baggage – the problem was that I wanted hand (but not checked) baggage, and while I knew that hand luggage is normally written Handgepäck I didn’t know if aufgegebenes was another word for hand baggage or if it referred to checked baggage. While these kinds of disruptions could certainly be viewed as learning opportunities (and that is how I learned those words), they happened at a higher frequency than I would like, and were often disruptive.

There were also more technical issues relating to internationalisation (or “i18n” as is frequently written in tech). For example, my copy of The Sims 4 couldn’t find its old data directories because it decided to search in Die Sims 4. Most of my documents are still written in English, and Office also seemed to think that it should follow the default language for spell-checking (a reasonable assumption, and it’s probably too much to ask to have it infer the input language and then run spell check based on that, but frustrating for me).

On the other hand, I find computer games, especially ones that are relatively simpler, suitable for playing in a target foreign language because, as discussed above, there are generally fewer consequences for mistakes. If one is playing competitively, of course, then this would be an unnecessary handicap. The Sims series would probably be very good games for playing in German (or when learning a foreign language) because many of the words encountered would be similar to ones used often in real life – compared to Keep Talking, where numbers, colours and orientation were much more prevalent. Tick Tock was interesting and communication felt more difficult (we’ve only finished chapter 1): it’s basically kind of like an escape room with puzzles and instructions in German. I was able to figure out at least the gist of what was being said, so that wasn’t too much of a problem – the bigger challenge there was because my friend and I communicated entirely in German. Relaying instructions was tricky; there is a richer range of things that needed to be communicated (as compared to saying Vier Kabeln, rot-gelb-schwarz-weiß; thinking back the part of Keep Talking made trickiest by using German was the symbols module).