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Screen your music collection on the go

July 22nd, 2010 No comments

For a long time, I’ve been frustrated with the process of screening new music.  We’d get new albums, I’d put them on my iPhone, I’d screen them there, then hear the same songs I had deleted from my iPhone the next time I put my collection on shuffle on my media computer.

Well, I’ve got a quick solution that will effectively allow you to screen your entire music collection while you’re on the go.  To do this, you need an iPod device and iTunes on the computer you sync with.

Use autofill to fill your iPod with songs from your machine – I have stand-up comedy sets, audiobooks, podcasts, and voicememos that I don’t want to have filled on to my iPhone, so I created a playlist that does not contain any of these, and have iTunes fill my device from this playlist.  You can do something similar, or simply use your entire music collection.  The most important part here is that you don’t create a narrow or specific playlist – the goal is to screen through your entire collection, so you want to try and keep the playlist as big as possible.

Now, when you’re out listening to your device, make a point of rating your songs.  I find this easiest to do when I’m working, as I can plug my device into the USB port of my computer, and have the songs show up as they’re playing.  This makes it very easy to rate as each new song comes up.

If you find rating tedious, then you can skip most of them, except for the songs you want to delete.  Whenever a song comes on that you really don’t care for (we’ve all got them in our collection), assign it a rating of 1.  Any other song, rate between 2-5.  I keep songs that I’ve rated as a 2 usually because sometimes I will want to listen to them within the context of the full album, even if I’m not particularly keen on them (some songs sound better when they are included in the overall progression of the album).

When you get home, sync your device with your computer.  All of your ratings will be transferred back on to your main computer and synced.  Now, sort your Music collection by rating, and delete all songs rated 1.  Then, autofill your iPod again, and you’re ready for the next day.

Using this technique, you will gradually screen through your entire collection.  I like to have a random sampling, which includes some of my favourite songs, so I use a fairly broad playlist.  If your goal is to screen through your collection as quickly as possible, you can create a smart playlist of all unrated songs and autofill your device from that.  This will ensure that you’re always listening to songs you have not yet screened.

I’ve been using this little technique, and it definitely allows me to squeeze a tedious task into the little nooks and crannies of time that exist throughout your day.

Happy screening!

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Apples and …

May 15th, 2010 7 comments

It’s been roughly a year since I bought my first Apple computer, and the hard-drive on my MacBook Pro just died, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the differences that I’ve noticed between the two big brands available to computer users.

First, some background on me.  I’ve used computers all of my life.  My parents brought home an Apple IIg computer when I was around 5 or 6.  When my brother and I were each given a choice of treat from my parents, my brother asked for the Lucky Shamrock Carebear; I asked for a joystick.  One of my first girlfriends was a girl that I met through local bulletin boards – systems that pale-faced nerds (like myself) around the city would use their computer’s modem to connect to, and chat into the early hours of the morning.

When, after failing most of my business courses at University, I transferred into Computer Science, my parents said “what took so long?”.  Through my undergrad, I spent hours fiddling with old computers that I had been donated in order to set up a Linux server and run my own website.  These days, most of these claims are unimpressive.  Modems are a now largely defunct device, bulletin boards haven’t existed in years, and for god’s sake please stop telling us about the good old days Grandpa.  The point isn’t to relive my youth, awesome as it was, but just to indicate that I’ve got a good deal of experience with many different kinds of computers, and that I’ve had a long time to formulate my opinions.  That doesn’t mean that they’re correct – just that they’ve been thought through and make a lot of sense to me.

Design

In my undergrad, I took two courses with a professor from Romania.  She was well-meaning, young, and not the typical Computer Science professor.  I think it was also fair to say that she was almost universally despised by the students in her class.  She was unsympathetic to the fact that her classes dominated our study time, to the detriment of other classes.  When students asked for a bit of clemency, her response was that she was going to challenge us to work smarter, rather than harder (“Thanks prof, any more helpful cliches for us?”).

However, that professor taught a class on human computer interaction (HCI) that has stuck with me all of these years.  HCI is the science of looking at how a product has been designed, and how the human user interacts with that product.  It is the science of attempting to make a product that is designed so as to be the most intuitive, and the most compatible with the user’s own mental assumptions about how that product should be used.

However you ever tried to use a product, thrown up your hands in frustration, and said “Ah!  I can’t use this, I’m just dumb!”.  The reality is that you aren’t dumb (well, maybe you are, but that’s not the problem here) – the product is just poorly designed.  Good design strives to do a number of things.  The first is that it attempts to understand how a user is going to interact and work with the product in question.  Have you ever gone to a restaurant that had a door you were meant to push, with a handle on it?  This is bad design.  The handle charges you with an assumption that you are meant to pull on it, and that that is the way you interact with the door.  A better design would have been to fit that side of the door with a metal push pad (basically those brass rectangles of metal that you see on a door) that would indicate to you that this door must be interacted with by pushing.

Doors are a simple example, but design is something that underlies almost every product created artificially (organically as well, though typically bottom-up, rather than top-down).  Being aware of good and bad design can be a bit of a gift and a bit of a curse.  It’s a gift because you can apply those principles to the things that you create.  It is a curse because you see bad design everywhere.

So, in a roundabout way, this leads us back around to how I first got bitten by the Apple bug.  It started when I ordered a free iPod through the points I had collected on my Visa.  Up until that point, I’d managed with my Palm Pilot’s small amount of memory and onboard Real™ brand music player (anyone remember Real Player?).  From the moment I started using it, the iPod screamed good design at me.  It’s controls were easy to use, and required no thought on my part.  Of course sliding your finger around the wheel made the volume go up and down.  Of course it interacted with my music the library the way I thought it would.  There were almost no situations where I found myself wondering how to actually accomplish something – I would just do what my intuition told me to do, and marveled at the fact that I had gotten it right yet again.

This is the gold standard for good design: getting completely out of your way so that you don’t have to waste time thinking about how to use the product – you simply spend all of your time using it.  Most people didn’t spend much time thinking about this.  They flipped on their music, plugged in their headphones, and forgot about it.  But it stuck with me.  It struck me again the next time I used someone’s iPod touch.  All of the gestures that had been built into the product’s design made sense.  Pinching and pulling to zoom in and out of an image simply made sense.  Flicking the menu to the left and right was the natural thing my mind said to do.  It wasn’t something I had to devote time to learn, it was just the natural inclination I had.

At this point, I had started to grow tired of using Windows.  I was always cobbling together solutions to problems that I didn’t feel should be an issue in the first place.  I can never move a window on my screen unless I move my mouse to the taskbar and click and drag from there.  Why?  Why can’t I just press and hold a key combination and then drag the window from anywhere (I used a program called AltDrag to resolve this issue).  How come it’s so tedious to scroll through windows without a scroll wheel?  Why are trackpads SO shitty??

Searching for something new, a friend showed me some of the latest videos of Ubuntu linux on YouTube, showcasing some of the new graphic front-end that the open-source community have been working on.  For the most part, I find running a Linux system to be of a cluttered mess.  No matter how good people tell you it gets, I find myself inevitably searching on forums late at night to find the other three people that have experienced the same problem that I’m currently having trying to get my mouses scrollwheel to work (or whatever other frustrating problem you’re encountering at the time).  Still, Ubuntu did look pretty sweet.  This video is a little bit dated, but it’s what initially drew me to give Ubuntu a try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC5uEe5OzNQ&feature=related – I love the comparison to Windows and how Compiz’s cube effect blows it away.

Ubuntu is pretty good.  At least, it’s coming along.  The same problems that I’ve always had with Linux exist, but at least it has a pretty sweet GUI up front to play with, and those effects are actually pretty functional (arranging virtual desktops on a cube makes more sense than you’d think – you can visually locate the workspace that contains your files quite quickly).  Buuuuut, those problems were still there.  So, the next logical alternative was the halfway house that Apple represented.

When Apple redesigned their operating system and released OS X, they built it on top of a variant of Linux, meaning that the system was quite stable, and that you could always drop down into the Linux underpinnings if you wanted to exercise some serious control over your system (and you still can, by running Terminal – this will give you full access to everything in your system if that’s how you like to operate).

I haven’t been let down.  Apple’s operating system is very stable, and the graphic effects take the promise represented by Ubuntu’s GUI and merge it with a single unifying set of design principles.  This is really the failure of open source in my opinion (though this doesn’t negate the value or ideals that open source aspires toward) – it’s great to have many people working on a product that is then released to the public for free, but without a strong leader unifying the direction and drive, there are often a lot of half-baked ideas.

Drive

This kind of leads us to one of the main criticisms that people have about Mac, which is that you’re straitjacketed to Apple’s design principles and vision.  This is absolutely correct.  What isn’t correct is to treat this as a purely negative thing.

Buying into one company means that you are stuck with what that company chooses as their priorities.  It means that if Apple decides to pursue a direction that you don’t like, you don’t have any option but to suck it up and accept it.  It means that if Apple has identified a compatibility issue that you’re experiencing between your music player and Apple’s computers, and they’ve decided not to address it at the current time, you’re out of luck.

A lot of people hate this fact about Apple.  It’s understandable too.  Sometimes I get frustrated as well.  There’s nothing worse than looking up a problem that I’m having, seeing that it’s been identified, and reading that the only solution is to buy a new piece of hardware that Apple has put out.  That sucks, and it feels like you’re being gouged a little bit.  But the fact is, for all of these faults, there’s also positives that come out of it.

Because of the fact that it’s one company that sets the direction that development proceeds in, the user experience of a Mac embodies these principles.  Unlike Windows, where every application has a different (and generally nonsensical) way for you to set your preferences, every single application on Macs places the preferences in the exact same spot, with the exact same keyboard shortcut to access it (Command-,).  Unlike Windows, where you can almost never drag and drop something from one program into another (you’re lucky if you can drag a file from explorer into the application that you want to open the file with), a very large majority of the applications on Mac are cleanly and fairly seamlessly integrated, allowing you to do just this.

It’s no problem at all for me to drag objects between Finder (the equivalent of Windows Explorer on Macs), Mail, Safari, iTunes, etc. without ever having to put my mind to what is happening underneath (ie, I don’t have to think “Okay, I want this e-mail to be created as an item in my calendar” – instead, I just hover my mouse over the date in the e-mail, and OS X gives me the option to add this as an item in my calendar).

I couldn’t understand why Mac users thought iTunes was a great product when I was a Windows user.  The reason is that on Macs, it IS a great product.  On Windows it’s garbage – slow, clunky, obnoxious, and a memory devouring giant.  On my Mac, it’s snappy, makes managing my library easy, and, again, integrates seamlessly with most of the other applications that relate to mp3s and audio.

The most important thing to point out is that this underlying unified approach to design is a systemic part of the OS.  This means that developers really don’t have much of an option to deviate from it (and there are legitimate reasons for wanting to do so, though I would suggest that more often than not it is better for the end-user when you design your applications consistently across an operating system, rather than simply across your own application suite).  Because these unifying design principles are systemic, it sets the foundation for integration across the board, rather than just between a suite of applications, like Microsoft Office (and even then, have you noticed how inconsistent the way you do things is across different versions?  So frustrating!)

Cost

Macs are most expensive.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Macs cost more than a low-end computer does.  But, you get what you pay for.  My mum has been buying high-end Windows laptops for a number of years (because she wants a decent computer that won’t die on her after two years), and the price is comparable to what I paid for the machine.  If you go online and look at what used Macs sell for, you’ll notice something else – they really retain their value.  This indicates not only that the machines remain functional after a good amount of use, but also that you can recoup some of your losses later on when you want to upgrade your machine (that’s what Bay and I did when we upgraded prior to me returning to school).

The initial investment can be a bit daunting at first, but once you’ve made the switch, you will rapidly reach the conclusion that your time is too valuable to waste it trying to figure out how to accomplish what you want to do.

So yeah, that’s the end of this Mac commercial.  Just a quick summary of Vancouver so far:

I suck at dancing

My parents came over last weekend and stayed with my brother, his girlfriend Willough, and I (as I’m staying with them for the Summer).  As a result, yesterday was the first chance I’ve had to take dance classes in Vancouver.  Annnnnd, it turns out I suck at dancing.  Humility is good, and I’m getting plenty of it over here.  The dance scene is incomparable to that which we have in Victoria, and while I and some others are doing everything we can to help build it, these things take time.  The first locking class I took immediately established for me that I have miles and miles of ground to cover.  This year has been good, in that I’ve been able to take the foundation that Sugar Pop and Greg Campbellocke Jr provided to me last year, and build on it.  But watching where a lot of the fellow students are at really helps keep my head in check and encourages me to continue practicing and striving for improvement.

One thing that I did notice was that although many of the people in the class had excellent technique, a lot of them violated one of the fundamental rules that Sugar Pop instilled in me, and that was that ultimately you need to make sure you’re dancing when you’re using that technique.  I saw a number of people with fabulous technique doing just that: technique.  Even if I’m not a brilliant technician, I do have confidence in the fact that whenever there’s music, I’m dancing.

The popping class was fairly basic, and I knew the technique that we were focusing on (the old man), but I will never pass up the opportunity to work on fundamentals, and I learned some new techniques to add to it as we went through the movements, so it was anything but a loss.

Apparently most of the dancers get out to Robson square on a nightly basis to practice.  My original plans were to take dance classes and learn solely from that way, but I feel now that if I really want to take advantage of this opportunity, I need to push myself to get out and practice in the square with those that are better than me.  Remember – inspiration, not intimidation.

Ferry’s disembarking, so this is where I end for today.

First year post mortem

April 29th, 2010 1 comment

Welcome back!  It’s been many many months since I’ve posted, and that’s a testament to how much of a load first year law school has been.  I love blogging, and the opportunity to articulate and crystallize my thoughts, but school has simply made it impossible to do so outside of the classroom.

That’s all good!  I’ve got a lot of things saved up, and I’m eager to get them out.

So is it that hard?

My friend started typing into Google the words “How hard is law”.  Google popped up two suggested guesses (which I replicated about a month ago).  The first suggestion was “How hard is law school?” – 83,600,000 results.  The second suggestion was “How hard is law school really?” – 165,000,000 results.

Although humorous, this is a very valid question.  The answer we’ve been given throughout the year has been that first year law is often the hardest part of a legal professional’s career.  I have no way of ascertaining whether or not that will remain true as I continue in my own trajectory.  But, it certainly feels believable being at the end of this year and looking back.

I, and I think many of my colleagues, had forgotten what it feels like to learn something from nothing.  My recollection of school was the last couple of years that I’d spent there.  I’d completed amost of the foundation courses, I was excited about the material I was learning and knew that I wanted to continue working in it.  The self-doubt that had been present initially had washed away and been replaced with confidence that can only come from understanding the foundation of your chosen discipline, and learning about everything that can be derived from it.

Coming back to school was a lot more like I’m sure the very start of my undergrad felt like.  At that time, I was young, had more energy, was more reckless, didn’t know what I wanted to do, ad nauseum.  It was a different experience for many reasons, but most importantly, it was difficult to really appreciate everything that school represented at the green age of 18 (probably one of the reasons I flunked many of my first and second year courses).

This time around, I had awareness of what I wanted.  I understood the challenges that I wanted to take on, and I had a better idea of what I would (and wanted to) get out of school (answer: more education – NOT a job, although that may be an added benefit to investing in myself).  I had the confidence that came from proving myself in the field for five years before coming back to school.  And I had a ton of great habits that I had developed before coming back.

All of these factors helped out incredibly, but that didn’t change the fact that first year Law was gruelling.

This will be a fairly long post; the intent is that I do a bit of a post mortem, like I would with a project that had completed.  Look at what worked well, what didn’t work well, what I learned, what I won’t repeat, and also a look at some of the context while I was doing my first year (dance, squash, friends, relationship, etc.).  Everything related to first year Law is immediately below – the context comes further down.

So is it that hard, really?

So, the answer is: Yes – it is that hard, really.  Learning something new from the ground up is very challenging.  Law is a particularly dense subject, with an immense set of jargon (legalese), rules, logic, background, and tradition to wade through.

Even just getting familiar with the best way to approach the material, and how to read caselaw can be a daunting process.  I’ve been a very prodigious reader for most of my life, and have always done well on reading comprehension tests, so imagine the adjusting that it took to learn that it now required three hours for me to get through about 30 pages of one of my textbooks.

The problem isn’t that I’m bad at reading, just that I’m bad at reading law.  And the reason that I’m bad at reading law isn’t that I’m bad at law in general – just that I’m not yet familiar with the domain and discipline.

These comments probably sound like platitudes at this point, but when you’re in the middle of trying to learn brand new material, integrate with a brand new social group, and under very tight deadlines, being able to find the time to adequately reflect and reach these conclusions is very challenging.  Most of us instead find a good deal of the challenge is simply coming to terms with the self-doubt that the situation creates.

And so that was the first big challenge for me: self-doubt.  I’m a very confident person.  The reason I’m confident isn’t because I’m arrogant – it’s because I spend a good deal of time in contemplation, reflection, and introspection.  I think about who I am, what I do well, and what I could do better.  I hold my friends to very high standards, and expect no less of myself.  This reflection is done with brutal honesty.

These are great ways to spend your time, and they allow you to appreciate and understand who you are.   Most importantly, they aid in granting the ability to understand what motivates the person you are, and what they are capable of.

That’s just a long-winded way of me saying “self-doubt?  But what about all this stuff you do?”  Well, that stuff has been a great help.  A huge help in fact.  But no system is fool-proof, and no amount of preparation can adequately prepare you for every contingency that comes about.  The truth is, Law school is extremely challenging, and when things get stressful, the natural inclination is to question whether or not you’re good enough..

So… Are you?

Of course I’m good enough, and so is everyone else.  We got into Law school, and the reason we got in is because we met the standard that they set for their students.  Law school is a lot like many other “career” graduate schools (I hate that description of it, but more on that later).  The hardest part is getting in.  Once you’ve done that, you’ve proven that you’ve got the chops to make it through to the other end.  That doesn’t mean that you’ll make it through without hard work, but what it does mean is that a lot of the pressure that students feel in their first year of law school comes from within, rather than without.

UVic’s law program is known Canada-wide for its collegiate atmosphere.  The environment is one of collaboration (with obvious exceptions such as assignments and writing exams (notwithstanding situations where it would be reasonable)), mutual encouragement, and working together to ensure that everyone better themselves.

In my opinion, this is the only atmosphere that you can aim to foster for the greatest long-term benefit.  It leads to a healthier student-body, a happier alumni, and graduating students with a greater depth of knowledge than is possible when they are encouraged to work alone.  Synergy isn’t just an obnoxious management term – it’s a concept very worthy of cultivation!

My own experience represents just one sample out of the many schools and programs available, but I found that the students that made it into the program were generally high achievers who were used to receiving good grades (A to A+ averages in their undergrad).  These are people that put a lot of pressure on themselves, and are used to doing well.  It can be quite challenging to have to adjust your benchmark for satisfactory performance.

One of the ways in which I managed this change was to reflect on what grades actually represent.  Coming out of undergrad, a lot of us have the incorrect impression that they are solely reflective of how intelligent we are.  Those of us that got good grades especially like to think along these lines, because it reflects positively on ourselves.  Perhaps it’s good that we were all forced to re-evaluate this approach – the world doesn’t really need any more self-important lawyers.

The conclusion that I reached is that the grade you end up with represents many things.  Intelligence, yes, certainly, but also things like the amount of time you’re willing to devote to school, and the sacrifices you’re willing to make.  It shows how much of your life you’re willing to let school dictate.  When I did my undergrad, these things weren’t obvious to me.  I was younger, and the two things on my agenda were generally school and party.  Partying took up the weekend, but other than that, I didn’t have a major relationship, physical exercise wasn’t as much of an issue, and there really wasn’t that many other things I had to worry about.

This time through, I have a greater appreciation for what I want out of life.  I don’t want to have my head buried in a book for the 5 hours I have to myself outside of school.  I’ve got other responsibilities, and not just responsibilities that I have to deal with, but responsibilities that I really want to deal with.  I want to keep teaching dance – that’s important to me.  I love my wife, and want to spend as much time with her as I can.  I want to see my family as much as I can.

The fact is that these aren’t problems that interfere with me getting good grades in Law school.  These are things that take precedence over school.  It sounds simple, but it can be an ellusive conclusion to reach when returning to school at the age of 30.  Things are different than the first time around!

Some things I’ve learned

You go back to school to learn, and that has happened in spades.  One of my friends mentioned in class that a lot of your real learning takes place when you have time to reflect, but that the trouble with first year is that you’re so busy, you rarely have time to actually do so.  I can appreciate this – I like to spend a lot of time in reflection and quiet contemplation.

For me, it’s all been about stealing moments when this is possible.  On the bus or bike ride to and from school, when going on a walk for lunch, or even just the few minutes when I’m eating breakfast.  These are valuable moments, easy to lose!

From a purely substantive perspective, I’ve learned a ton about the field of Law, or at least the foundations of it.  The classes that (I believe) all first year students take are Contracts, Property, Torts (claims based in negligence and harm caused to others), Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Legal Research and Writing, and Law, Legislation and Policy.

The last class mentioned is the shortest one, and covers the process of interpreting legislation.  This might sound trite, but legislation is almost meaningless until someone interprets it.  If someone write a statute prohibiting all men, women, and seniors from doing something, does this include children?  If yes, why aren’t they mentioned explicitly?  If no, then what about any other classes that aren’t mentioned explicitly.  Courts spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to best interpret legislation so as to remain true to the intent of the Legislature.

Contracts, Property, and Tort law are all forms of private law.  They’re law that mediates the relationship between individuals.  In Contracts, I learned that those mandatory arbitration clauses you see in cell-phone contracts are currently acceptable.  That sucks – I was really hoping our (awesome) professor would let us know that this is a contentious area of law, and would soon be changing.

Property law is as it sounds, but what caught me off-guard is how damn archaic it is.  Property is arguably the most ancient form of law that we have (though I might argue that before people had property, they were arguing about injuries that they had sustained as a result of each other’s actions – Tort).  A lot of the law related to wills and estates is derived from law put into place because of a King’s whim, or in order to subvert that whim.  That’s pretty wild, and can make for a difficult time to wrap your head around it from a logical perspective.

Tort law is the eye-rolling law.  It’s the law that people typically get upset about – where someone spills hot coffee into their lap, and sue someone else because the coffee was too hot (that case was overturned at the court of appeals, incidentally).  However, it’s also a very important area of law.  It’s easy to get upset when you hear about ludicrous lawsuits that end up costing people millions of dollars, but what about situations where an employee suffered grievous bodily harm because their employer didn’t bother putting adequate safeguards in place?  Tort law is in place to ensure that people injured due to other people’s negligence have a means of being compensated.  Would it be fair for someone to leave their chainsaw running on their balcony, have it fall on you, and for you to have no form of compensation?

Constitutional and Criminal Law are both public law.  They’re areas of law that mediate between “the state” (Canada, or the Province), and the individual.  In 1982, Pierre Trudeau enacted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets limitations on what our government can actually do (notwithstanding the fact that there’s a clause including allowing them to override the constitution, given an appropriate circumstance).  Constitutional law, for the most part, is based on interpreting and measuring whether or not various government legislation and actions violate our constitutional rights.

Criminal law is exactly what it sounds like.  Most of what falls in the area of criminal law is codified in our Criminal Code – a massive book containing descriptions and explanations of everything that is criminal in our country.

I didn’t expect to like Criminal Law.  Going back to school, it always felt like the area of law that would require the most flexible sense of morality.  It hasn’t hurt that the professor I’ve had for this class has been one of the best professors I’ve ever had, undergrad or otherwise.  I think that a flexible sense of morality may still be required – a number of the friends that have worked with criminal lawyers have mentioned that almost all of the clients being defended are factually guilty.  The defense lies in pointing to technicalities, or violations of the accused’s Charter-protected rights in order to “get them off”.

The stance that I’ve started taking, when approaching this area of law, is that it’s really not at all about the people being defended.  To me, the ideal a defense lawyer should be pursuing is not to help scum bags get off – it’s to protect the importance and sanctity of due process.  Even before going back to school, I’ve had many arguments with many friends about the importance of due process.  It’s something that a lot of people can’t get their heads around, because a lot of people take the attitude that “I don’t break the law, so I’m not concerned about the police entering my house, or searching my bag, or searching my locker”.  It’s difficult for us to appreciate what would happen in a society where we did not have rights to privacy, security, life, and liberty that were not only protected by the Charter, but also that were upheld in courts of law.

Once we start allowing the state to infringe on our protected rights, its a gradual slide, first to the situation in the States (suffering under the ironically named Patriot Act), and then gradually toward situations like Communist Russia, and lastly landing in an Orwellian setting like 1984.  This may sound dramatic, but I truly believe that protecting individual rights is one of the most important things a criminal defense lawyer does.

As a society, we should place a high value on the rights that individuals are given in Canada.  The sacrifice that we make in order to ensure that those rights are protected is that factually guilty people will sometimes go free.  We need only watch some of the videos that have surfaced on YouTube to see some of the violations that can occur at the hands of the police.

Some things that have worked…

Many of the good habits I set myself up with prior to coming to school have helped me greatly.  Learning and applying GTD methodology has been incredibly helpful in ensuring that I’ve been able to keep on track of all the demands on my time, and allowed me to do way more than I would have been able to do if I didn’t have a system for keeping track of everything.

A lot of my friends laugh at me for the amount of scheduling that I do, and probably grow sick of hearing “Look, I need more than one day’s notice”.  I think that many of them think “Adam’s way too busy and never had time for fun”.  The reality is that by scheduling my time, I maximize the amount of fun that I have, as well as the amount of time I can spend being productive.

Law school presented a ton of opportunities to go out partying.  I’m glad that I spent time before returning to think about where my priorities actually lie, and to figure out mechanisms for coping with an insane amount of workload that didn’t involve turning to the bottle every time I had a break.  It’s definitely a way to blow off steam, but there are other far more constructive ways for me to do so.

Remembering the importance of physical exercise has been a huge help to.  When the pressure gets put on, and time becomes tight, it’s easy to forget about how important this.  Setting up good habits before going back to school has helped keep exercise in the forefront of my mind.  Being married to someone that also knows the value of this has helped immensely as well.

So…

This has been a bit of a ramble.  I’m still processing thoughts, and figuring out how to articulate them – I could spend more time editing, staring, and trying to corral my words into something more meaningful, but in the past, the result from that has been that I just don’t make a post.

Stay tuned – there’ll be many more to come this Summer

A new year

January 3rd, 2010 1 comment

Uhhh… it’s been over a month-and-a-half since my last post?  Holy cow.

Since the last update I’ve made, I’ve completed my first class in my career as a student of Law, and I’ve written five mid-terms for my other year-long classes.  The exam period wasn’t too bad, though there were plenty of tensions running high.  Exam period has always felt a little bit more relaxed to me, as, aside from the time that you actually need to spend writing the exam, you have freedom to spend your time however you like.  Ideally that time should be spent reviewing, but I get to decide how and when I do that review.

I haven’t gotten any results back from exams yet, so I only have my own impressions to go on.  However, accounting for that, I’m pretty happy with how everything panned out.  I put enough work in during the term itself that my review process was pretty relaxed and didn’t feel like I needed more time or was under a great amount of pressure to review and process all of the information we had covered up to that point.  I began the process of writing my outlines about two weeks before classes wrapped up, as I figured that would be a lengthy process, and wanted to get as much of a head start as possible.  This also allowed me time to take more than a single iteration at some of my outlines; after getting to the end of the last one, I had a better feel for how I wanted to structure the ones I had already completed.

It’s highly likely that I’ll get my grades back and be disappointed with the results.  I hold myself to a high standard, and this is the first time I’ve been tested in any capacity on brand new material.  However, getting back those grades will simply present an opportunity to adapt the system and methods that I’ve currently got in place – not a failure, or a missed opportunity.  The only missed opportunity would be the one where I neglect to take anything away from getting back grades that tell me I need to adapt.

The holidays were awesome, and deeply relaxing.  I sat down multiple times to do some schoolwork and put myself ahead of schedule, but there was no part of me that actually wanted to do the work.  Sure, doing it would have put me ahead of schedule, but in times like this, it’s important to listen to what our body and head are telling us, and allow ourselves breaks when we deserve them.  The Fall term was a bit of a roller-coaster: meeting over a hundred new people, learning new material and a new approach to thinking, and re-adapting my priorities to suit the new demands on my time.

Adapting priorities is always tricky.  School and my relationship need to remain at the very top of my list.  I made a decision to return to invest in myself and return to school.  To do anything but assign that a top priority would be a waste of my investment and time.

Although it’s mostly obvious that my relationship should be at the top of my list of priorities, it never hurts to remind myself of that fact.  It’s also important to note that there’s not really any relationship that I know of that doesn’t require work.  When the pressure gets on and things get stressful, it’s easy to get complacent, and let your relationship take a back seat to everything else.  But this isn’t the coping mechanism that either of us want to turn to when things get tight.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to stay on top of most of the goals that I’ve set out for myself this year.  I’ve managed to continue playing squash a couple times a week, and continue teaching one dance class a week and finding time to practice.  The biggest sacrifice that I’ve had to make has been blogging.  I really enjoy writing and the opportunity to articulate new areas of growth and learning.  But after coming home from sitting in classes all day, and then reading for another couple of hours, I’m completely burned out, and don’t have any mental energy left to devote to writing out a decent entry.  So that’s where the sacrifice has been made.  I’m not happy to see that change, but if it means that I can maintain most of the rest of my life for the next three years, then that’s the choice I have to make.

Until another two months…

Update, pure and simple

November 15th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and that is a tough thing to feel slipping.  When the crunch periods are on, it’s hard to find the time or mental energy to think about subjects that I want to expand upon; when the crunch periods are off, it’s hard to motivate myself to do even more writing.  As you can see, it can be a challenge trying to find a place to write creatively in there.  When time is a scarce commodity, the best approach for me is usually to go back to the basics, so that’s how this post rolls.  Just an update for you, and an opportunity to do some writing that isn’t schoolwork for me.

School..

has been going really well.

This past week, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve felt like the material has been starting to sink in, and the landscape is a little bit more clear to me.  We also got our first midterm grades back, which was a welcome piece of feedback that I think we were all ready for.  I did better than my expectations, and so that made the pill a lot easier to swallow, but I think that most of us were really just happy for the opportunity to be given a benchmark.  Our professor sagely commented “for those of you who did well..  Don’t fall in love with it”, and so I will be making an effort to remain vigilant as we continue onward.  I don’t know what other option I really have.

After the last couple of weeks, the remembrance day holiday was a welcome reprieve, and even though one I had a make-up class scheduled on Friday, the workload has been a little bit lighter this week.  I think that I’m also starting to gain a better understanding of how I can best absorb the material, which is making me a little more efficient.  That’s the hope, anyway – I won’t be able to tell anything for sure until I have the means to test that: time passing and more data.  So, we’ll see.  If nothing else, I have certainly been trying out a number of different means for approaching this material.  On that note…

Habits and productivity..

are a mandatory topic in any blog post.

This wouldn’t feel like a blog entry if I didn’t include some notes about productivity or habits of mine, as of late.  In the process of training myself better moderation, I’ve had some minor epiphanies, which has been exciting.  The opportunities in life for growth are really a significant aspect of what makes me tick, and so it’s always exciting when I’m lucky enough to reflect on one of those opportunities as it’s occurring.

The first thing I’ve noticed about my own habits, and I suspect, many others, is that training moderation is easier when we give ourselves the opportunity for flexibility.  When it isn’t absolutely necessary (it rarely should be) to abstain from something, a flexible system with clear boundaries will provide you with a habit that has a greater chance of sticking for the longterm.  Abstinence does not provide you with any opportunity to adapt to new circumstances, and is not really a practice in moderation at all.  Some people may tell you that abstinence is a virtue, but my own belief will always be that life and happiness are about balance, and part of that balance is the skill of moderation.

The most significant thing about that has come out of this process has been my growing understanding and ability to articulate the concept that moderation is a skill.  The significance of this discovery is that I can now begin to approach this skill with the wisdom and hindsight that I’ve gained in the past, trying to train other skills.  Never mind that – the fact that moderation is a skill at all means that it’s not just some innate ability that someone is born with, but rather something that you can make better, over time, if you wish.

Some of my own thoughts as I’ve begun to think more about this notion are that:

  • Moderation works best in a framework
A framework provides you with some kind of boundary.  It gives you a benchmark from which to practice moderation.  If you take away these boundaries or benchmarks, then you will fall into the trap of shifting baselines, a concept pioneered (I believe) by the thoughtful Randy Olsen (his movie Flock of Dodos is excellent).  The longer you spend doing something a certain way, the more natural that way feels, and the more difficult it becomes to objectively assess where you sit. (Randy applied this concept to the Great Barrier Reef, I believe, noting that the baseline for what the reef looked like when it was healthy shifted dramatically between his time as a student, and when he took his own students to see it.  The reef had shrunk and withered significantly, but to the class, this was the baseline that they would be acquainted with, and see as natural, dulling the sense of urgency to do something to maintain its health as an entity).

With a clear framework, you have an objective baseline to which you will always be able to look and ascertain if you’re moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

  • Moderation and Willpower hang out together

The more you practice moderation, the greater your willpower becomes.  Moderation, over time, means becoming adept at following through with something when you desire, but doing so in a manner that looks ahead to the future.  It requires exercising a degree of restraint and willpower, but in a manner that leaves you with reserves.

Willpower, then, can be thought of as our energy to moderate.  For your muscles, you have a finite amount of energy that you can expend before you need to back off and give them a rest.  For the practice of moderation, you have willpower.

Make no doubt about it, willpower is a finite commodity.  We all have some measure of willpower that we are able to exercise when we need to.  But once that willpower is expended, it is like any other muscle or mental quality that can be trained; we need to give it time to recharge.  The more that you practice and exercise moderation, the greater your reserves of willpower will become.  When you practice abstinence, you make decisions rarely.  You are not exercising moderation or your willpower, because you are rarely exposing yourself to the situations that would allow for it.

  • Moderation works best with flexibility

By providing yourself with a flexible framework, you give yourself a clear, objective boundary within which to work, but allow yourself some flexibility within that boundary.  Setting yourself up in this manner gives you the opportunity to adapt to circumstances as needed, and allows you to exercise an element of control at multiple points.  Part of the key to moderation is actually providing yourself with the ability to make decisions at multiple tiers of willpower.  When you practice abstinence, you train only one level of willpower – never doing something ever.  However, what about if/when that level of willpower fails you (and let’s be honest here: nothing is truly failsafe; especially our willpower)?  You haven’t trained any other aspect of your willpower.  That one level fails, and you cave with no more defences.

Flexibility gives you the power to exercise your willpower on multiple levels, and on a continual basis.  Doing so allows you to check in with yourself more frequently, and see how you’re doing.  It gives you many small victories, which encourage the growth of your self-esteem, and a few small losses, or failures.  But failure is an essential part of life; it’s better to have a small failure, with small victories surrounding it to ground your perspective, than one big failure, with the last success far enough of back in time to be fading from your memory.

Flexibility lends itself to iterative change and continual feedback, two qualities that lead to greater success in many of the endeavours that we choose to pursue.

  • Moderation can be applied to anything (it is worth practicing)

Some people will think that talking about moderation means that I’m talking about either alcohol abuse or drug abuse.  But moderation is a skill that we practice in everyday of our lives, though much of it is beneath our level of awareness.  It isn’t until you start to think about moderation as an independent skill unto itself that you begin to see its presence constantly.

Injured yourself playing a sport, but want to keep playing?  Want to stay up, but know that you should go to bed?  Know that you should be working on an assignment, but procrastinating instead?  All of these are examples of situations in which we are aware of what the correct decision is, but must exercise our willpower to overcome our short-term impulses.  In most cases, we don’t even contemplate the reserves that we are or are not exercising, make a decision, and get on with our lives.  Wouldn’t you like to have a little more willpower?

  • Moderation itself requires moderation (it is reflexive!)

Moderation really does apply to everything, including itself.  It’s important to find times when you allow yourself a little bit of excess.  Remember, the act of practicing moderation is one that uses up willpower.  The difference to be aware of is that the moments of excess you allow should be ones of which you are cognisant, rather than simple lapses in judgment.  By mentally allow yourselves these breaks, you will ensure that you keep an eye on your baseline and prevent it from becoming a habit.  You keep your goals in sight and stay true to them in the longterm.

Okay, I’ve covered off the productivity update, if that’s all you’re here for, see ya!

Dancing..

is made better by having awesome students.

Our studio has been doing well, and the classes continue to be enjoyable.  My own growth has come in the form of improving my ability to choreograph, and working on technique when I can find the time (not as often as I’d like).  My class’s progression has been rapid and fun, which is great – I’m enjoying the process of learning along with everyone.

I finished off the last term with some more work on popping and a little bit of waving.  In order to do some work on gliding, I decided that we would work on a little bit of gliding at the start of two or three of our classes.  Partially to warm the class up, and partially because gliding can be a very disheartening skill to learn when you first tackle it: the balance required is slow to build, and it can be painful on your calf muscles.  Additionally, it’s just not a way that we’re normally geared to move, so there’s a reasonable amount of muscle memory that needs to be trained.  We also added in some new fundamental techniques, some of which I’d just been shown this summer, like the popcorn.

Two of my friends from school came and checked out my first class of the new term, which was a lot of fun.  Because we hadn’t done it much last term, and because I love it so much, I started the first term off with some locking.  I went through some fundamentals with the class, and then began putting some choreography toward the end.  We went considerably far back, starting with the Watergate, a social dance that Sugarpop taught me this Summer, and that ties in directly with the lock from which the dance gets its name.  The fundamental movements that we went over this class included:

  • The pace
  • Uncle Sam point
  • Giving yourself five
  • The lock
  • The pimp walk
  • The scoobot

I have never taught some of these before, so it was a lot of fun figuring out how best to convey this information to the class, and seeing how people handled learning some of the new movements (some of them much better than I did when I was learning!)

The next class I reviewed the choreography that we had learned so far and we then moved to tutting.  The class all groaned when I announced that this was what we would be doing next class, so I was happy to see that most people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Tutting can be a frustrating art to learn; it requires moves that demand a good deal of flexibility in your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  Though lots of people work on flexibility in their lower body, it is less-often exercised from the forearms down.

I was disappointed to see that one of the students that had shown considerable promise last term didn’t return, but I saw some other new students in his place, so things balance out, as they usually do.

Squash..

still rules.

But I’m not getting to play it as much as I’d like.  I have been biking to school, and teaching dance classes, so my fitness and flexibility have not suffered to a great extent, but my touch is starting to fade as time goes on and I don’t have the opportunity to hit the ball as often as I’d like.  I have been playing on the squash ladder at school, which is a lot of fun and a good way to meet new friends, but the level of play isn’t equivalent to that which you would find at a club that is dedicated to squash.  Still, it does give me an opportunity to work on my length, and it’s a lot of fun.  I’ll take squash wherever and whenever I can get it!

And that..

is it.

That’s the end of the update for now.  Although my updates will continue to be sparse while I’m in school, I absolutely intend to continue writing.  If I stopped doing this, I think that I would have lost a significant aid to my own growth and potential.  Thanks for continuing to read, and stay tuned!  Please leave me a comment if you have any questions related to the content I post, or the subjects I write about.  I’m always looking for more inspiration to fuel writing, and if it comes from without, it saves me some of the mental energy required to come up with new ideas.

First mid-term of the degree

October 30th, 2009 3 comments

And so here we are. The first mid-term of a law degree. Here are some of the things that I’ve done leading up to this point:

  • Stressed about the fact that law school is a whole new ball game, and it’s no longer reasonable for me to expect to get consistent A’s
  • Searched online for information relating to how important first year law school grades are
  • Done some deep reflection about grades, and what they mean to me
  • Come to terms with the fact that I may (and probably do) sit somewhere in the middle of the curve among my fellow students
  • Stressed about the fact that I have no idea how we’ll be tested on the material tomorrow
  • Studied and realized that I know a lot of these things better than I thought I did
  • Shaken my head and complained out loud: “We’ve got a midterm and a writing assignment coming up, AND we’re expected to read for four hours every day?”
  • Gotten and shared outlines from second- and third-year students
  • Gotten completely freaked out as a result of looking through the outlines I’ve received
  • Gone through the process of preparing my own outline, amazed at the length of some of the outlines I looked through
  • Tightened up and completed my outline, and noted that mine came out around 16 pages (after including the relevant cases)
  • Studied by myself
  • Studied collaboratively through Facebook
  • Studied collaboratively in person with some study groups
  • Established a stronger bond with those people I’ve studied with
  • Drunk a lot of Earl Grey tea
  • Choreographed most of my next dance class
  • Gone through two practice mid-terms
  • Gone from being pretty concerned about my ability to do anything beyond “winging it”, to feeling pretty confident in my ability to put together a semi-decent argument
  • Made an incredible stir-fry (it’s the only kind I know how to make)
  • Drunk the following Scotches: Aberlour (10 year), Aberlour (12 year), Bowmore, Smokehead

I have much more to write, but no time to put the thoughts into words.  Stay patient…

Study arena

October 18th, 2009 3 comments

Quick post showing the study set up that I’m working with.  We have an office in our condo, but Bay has about 6 weeks left before she finishes her M.B.A. and completes her thesis.  As you might expect, that takes precedence over the more mundane studying that I’m currently doing.

That’s okay though.  Although my study setup is fairly spartan, it has everything that I need to make sure that I can stay focused.  Recreated here in glorious colours:

For some odd reason, my Flickr notes get scrunched up into a very small margin for this setup.  Nevertheless, you can get the gist of what I’m operating with here.  Being a broke-ass student sucks, but it doesn’t take a lot to come up with a system that allows you to be efficient.

Study Better..

October 16th, 2009 No comments

Alright, I’m back, and with a shiny new blog layout and design to boot.  It feels good to start writing again, after taking what, to me, feels like a long hiatus.  School has required plenty of writing to keep me busy, but writing within the confines and requirements of an assignment is a lot different than writing purely for the benefit of my own sense of expression.

In the past, many of my posts have related to GTD, and how the skills of that philosophy can be applied to your job and your daily chores at home.  Given my recent change in direction, I’m going to write today about how you can apply some of the concepts of GTD to improve your ability to study.  Well, actually, I’m mostly going to talk about what I’m doing to stay on top of the work that we’re given on a weekly basis, and how some of that ties in with the habits that I’d established before leaving the professional world to return to school.

Before starting in, I’ll just grant you an idea of the amount of work that I see on a daily basis.  We have about six different classes that we are taking, for a total of roughly 20-30 hours of our week.  We don’t have any classes scheduled on Friday (yes, this is awesome, but probably not for the reason that you’re thinking), so we have at least three days a week that are wide open, as far as how we spend our time is concerned.

Supplementing those classes is the reading.  Oh god the reading!  On average, we have about 30 pages of reading, per individual class, to get done.  On average, this means that each night we need to read about 60 pages.  On top of that, it’s not enough to simply read the cases and material – we need to read, understand, and be prepared to discuss that material the next day.  Reading case after case eventually starts to cause them all to blend together, so the erudite student also writes out case briefs for each of the cases so that you can reference these later on in class and discuss them intelligently (I’ve found that staring slack-jawed at the teacher is another option).

Lastly, the readings are dense.  I’m not a slow reader.  I’ve accomplished the usual geek tricks like reading a Harry Potter book in a couple of hours, just so that I could say I had done it (this is the first time I’ve actually revealed this fact, but I was glad to have that fact as an ace up my sleeve if I ever ran into some jerk boasting about that kind of thing at a party).  I’ve been a voracious reader since a kid, so I’m no stranger to burying my head in the pages of books.  However, this material makes you question your ability to comprehend the English language.  “Did I suddenly forget how to read?”, I find myself wondering out loud.  Why has my reading comprehension gone from a Harry Potter book in a couple of hours to a ten pages over the span of an hour.

Anyhow, you get the idea – this is slow reading.  I find that to actually complete my readings for one class, and finish the case briefs that I want to do to ensure that I retain and comprehend that material, I require roughly 2.5 to 3 hours of time.  This allows me a little bit of time for distractions (e-mail, making tea, etc., though I try to minimize these), but is otherwise pretty tight.  As you can see, this quickly adds up and makes for a lot of work to get through each week.  If you want to stay on top of this, it really does require some dedication, motivation, and good habits.  The dedication and motivation are things that come from within, and are related to your love and interest in the material at hand.  The good habits are something that can be cultivated externally, and that’s the pith and substance (I’ve read that term about 50 times just this morning.  Lawyers seem to love it) of this post today.

Enough rambling, let’s get to the point, yah?

Stop Procrastinating

Obvious right?  It’s still relevant, and I’m still going to talk about it.

Procrastinating is simply the art of putting off until later, something that you could be doing today.  We all do it, and most of us hate the fact that we do it.  Working as a project manager, and taking steps to change my habits to allow me to be more productive required that I grapple with my own bad habit to procrastinate in a substantial manner.  The most enlightening conclusion that I drew was that procrastination is ultimately about making a decision, and that most of us are unaware that we are making a decision.

How do you want to spend your time?  Do you want to spend it doing a bunch of small, meaningless things, or do you want to spend it on a personal project, working out, or doing something larger and more meaningful?  This is the essence of procrastinating.  When you put off doing something, you are making the decision to fill your immediate time with small, trifling tasks until you finally get around to accomplishing what needs to be done.

This segues well into the next thing I’ve been working on, which is…

Maintain Your Focus

A friend at school told me that experiments in psychology have shown on average that our attention rises, peaks, and falls over the course of about 40 minutes.  After 40 minutes have passed, we have about 10-20 minutes of downtime before the cycle repeats itself.  You can spend that downtime taking a break, or trying to push through it and continuing to read.  In both cases, you will find a fresh wind coming upon you after about 10-20 minutes.

I have absolutely no way of independently verifying this, but it strikes me as reasonable.  More important though, is that I think we all have some kind of threshold whereby we can concentrate for X amount of time, after which we really are better off taking a break before getting back down to it.

My own experience has been that it takes me about 10 minutes to settle into a zone where I am able to efficiently process the information I’m trying to read.  After about an hour, I start to phase out again and lose focus.

During that first 10 minutes, it’s very tempting to let my mind wander and chase after any distracting thought that comes into my head.  “Oh right, I wanted to show Bay my new desktop”, “Hmm, I wonder how our Visa’s doing”, “I haven’t annoyed my cat in over five minutes!”, are all thoughts that frequently pass across my head when I’m trying to find that zone.  The same kind of distractions pop up when I’m actually into the efficient zone, but it’s easier to let them slide and stay focused.

To counter this, my own method is to start my studying with a pencil and a pad of paper beside me.  Whenever a legitimate distracting thought pops up, I write it down on my pad of paper, and release it.  The idea is captured, and I can pursue it later if it’s worthwhile.  Most importantly, I can immediately get back to the task at hand, rather than having it sit in the back of my head, buzzing around and tugging at my attention.

Turn Off Distractions

I’m really breaking the mould here..  Ignore that though – the best tips are the ones that should be the most obvious, but that we rarely follow.

Do you sit down to study, but leave your e-mail connected?  What about MSN?  Facebook?  If any of these things represent legitimate distractions to you (and I can assert that they do to over 33% of my fellow students, given what I can see when I look across the room at people’s laptops), and you legitimately plan on getting something done, do yourself a favour and shut it down.  Turn off your wireless access, take yourself somewhere that you don’t have access to a computer, etc.  Do whatever you need to at the outset so that you don’t have to battle with yourself later on when looking for reasons to do anything other than studying.

Some people (not me) are able to get their work done in an efficient manner while jumping back and forth to e-mail, MSN, and a myriad of other distractions.  I am not one of these people.  Knowing which category you fit into requires honest reflection and introspection.  If you’re unsure, perform an experiment and see if your studying is any more efficient when you remove yourself from these distractions.

I find that I can generally function alright when I leave my e-mail on (perhaps this harks back to my previous work as a project manager, where the order of the day was about 50 e-mails when trying to write up project plans and budgets); MSN and Facebook are both off limits, and have to wait until I take my next break.

Figure Out What Works For You

What works for you may be different from what works for anyone else.  One of the things that I have been grappling with lately is how I can efficiently read all of the material we’re assigned, and meaningfully write out briefs and notes so that I can retain some of it.

The things I’ve tried so far, have been:

  1. Read all material linearly, start to finish
  2. Approach all material with the intent of briefing cases.  Before even starting to read a case, set up a template within which to brief it, and scan the case for relevant facts to brief
  3. Set up different templates for different types of cases (constitutional, criminal, policy, etc.), but maintain the same approach above
  4. Read everything linearly initially, highlighting anything relevant.  Then return and brief cases.

It’s taken me four attempts to get to this point, and I’m still unsure as to whether or not I’ve got a method sorted out that will work for me.  But, I am evolving something, and I am learning as a result of going through this process.  So far, school has not just been about reading and learning the material itself, but also learning about the best way to actually process and retain that material.

Find Tools That Work For You

There are a ton of tools out there can assist or distract you in your aims.  Prior to starting to school, I completely migrated my GTD system into Remember the Milk (get it here).  While RTM is a fantastic tool for deeper projects, I have not found it particularly useful for keeping track of my readings.  Assigned readings are fast and frequent.  I need to be able to jot them down quickly, and with minimal overhead.  Although I initially started trying to do this in RTM, when I started to feel my diligence slipping, I noticed a friend in class using stickies on their dashboard to keep track.  I made the switch and have been going with this since.

This doesn’t mean that RTM is not a fantastic tool – it just means that, for my purposes, for this specific thing I’m trying to track, stickies are the better option.  Don’t confine yourself to using something that you think should be useful, but is actually a hindrance.  If you find yourself resisting the use of some tool, ask yourself why that is.  Is it because you simply haven’t gotten used to it, or is it because it’s just in line with the way you typically operate?

Collaborate

Not to the point of cheating.  But within the realms of what is acceptable, collaboration is the way to go.  The first couple months of our program are almost entirely absent of feedback.  Because of the entry-level requirements for UVic’s law program, it’s all people that are in the high-functioning category, and when you put these kinds of personalities into a small building, give them something challenging to work on, and don’t tell them how you’re doing, it makes for a lot of built up neuroses.  Collaboration is an excellent means to ground yourself, get a feel for how everyone else is feeling, and get some honest feedback about the work that you actually are producing.  While it will never align you with the prof quite the same way as getting back an assignment that they themselves have marked, it will certainly give you a feel for how other people are viewing the material, and for things that you may be missing.

At this point, I can’t think of anything that has helped me as much as collaborating with my fellow students has.

Briefs

That about covers most of what I have on my mind today.  This gives a very quick overview of the sort of things that have been occupying my thoughts lately: focusing not only on the new material that I’m learning, but also the way that I’m learning it.  The more efficient I can get the latter, the greater the benefit I’ll be able to derive from my education as I go forward.

I’ll finish off by posting the case briefing templates that I’ve been using.  If anyone has feedback or there own suggestions, please provide them – these are what I’ve been working from so far, but I would love to know of any inefficiencies or improvements that I could be making.

Regular Case Brief Template

  • Plaintiff:
  • Defendant:
  • Jurisdiction/Year:
  • Finding:
  • Finding of lower court (if applicable):
  • Legal Issue/Question:
  • Legal Principle:
  • Ratio:
  • Facts:
  • Reasoning:
  • Notes:

Law, Legislation, and Policy Case Brief Template

  • Style of cause:
  • Statute being interpreted:Jurisdiction:
  • Year:
  • Wording leading to confusion/interpretation issues
  • Principle/Ratio:
  • Reasoning:
  • Notes:

Reference Case Brief Template

  • Reference Re:
  • Jurisdiction:
  • Year:
  • Finding:
  • Finding of lower court (if applicable):
  • Legal Issue/Reference Question:
  • Facts:
  • Reasoning:
  • Notes:

Constitutional Case Brief Template

  • Style of cause:
  • Statute being interpreted: Jurisdiction:
  • Year:
  • Finding:
  • Dispute over:
  • Issue over which dispute arose:
  • Reasoning:
  • Notes:

Back once again, the incredible..

October 3rd, 2009 No comments
Welcome back
I haven’t been able to update for about four weeks.  The reason for this is that I, rather uncharacteristically, decided to dive into the work of updating my blog with four days left before school started.  I had been making excellent progressive during the past three weeks, and cleared off a ton of tasks.  The remaining items that I had left seemed manageable, so I felt it prudent to start in on another project before school started.
What I didn’t foresee was that Movable Type, the blog software I use, and the theming capabilities that it comes with, are iffy at best.  Actually getting a particular layout to work with my blog, based on my own anecdotal evidence, is very fiddly work.  On top of that, I have very little CSS experience to draw upon, and just don’t really enjoy doing the work.  Although the idea of using themes was to avoid having to do any of that, the themes that you are given are quite limited, and if you want to go even just a little bit outside of the box, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty.  I was not fooling myself that this would be necessary, but didn’t anticipate that school would get as busy as quickly as it did, and that installing a theme would bring down my whole blog.
If you are viewing this site directly, you can currently see that it’s extraordinarily ugly (and I’m actually surprised you’ve read this far if that is the case, instead of just refusing to accept my imposing something like this on your sensibilities).  If you’re viewing it in an RSS reader, then that’s all good, and really the main aim to which I publish anyhow.
Still, people are bound to be googling my name from time to time, and it sucks that this is the ultimate result that they end up at.  Enough of that for now.  Change will come, at some point down the road, and until then, we’re all stuck with either using a feed reader (which you should be doing anyway – check out Google Reader if you haven’t yet), or reading text on an ugly site.
Law School

I don’t know what I can write about law school at this point that won’t end up coming off as hopelessly optimistic or simply trite.
Suffice it to say that I’m really enjoying the faculty, the classes, my classmates, and the subject matter so far, and that although I’m sure the workload (and consequently, the stress) will increase as time wears on, I’m optimistic in my belief that I will continue to feel positive about both my decision and the new field of study that I have chosen to pursue.
Law bears a lot of overlap with a way of thinking that I have pursued and espoused for a while now: skepticism.  Being in a degree program where we are not just encouraged but expected to make use of faculties that focus on seeing both sides of an issue and determining the most effective ways to argue for either of those is challenging and rewarding.
Dancing

The fall term has kicked off at Vibestreet Dance, and things are going great.  I’ve finished giving my third class so far this term, and have also started giving some private lessons.  The students seem to be enjoying what I’m putting down, and that’s good, because I really am too.
So far I have taken the class through the basics of popping, waving, and tutting, and this Tuesday I will be giving an intro class to locking.  Although I am nowhere near the locking instructor that some of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to train with are, I think that I am good at conveying information in a way that other people can understand, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to understand the fundamentals of these dances.  I’m excited to teach something that is still very new to me, and especially a dance that I have so much respect for and that has so much history behind it.
Giving private lessons is also a new experience, and allows for a much more organic approach to teaching.  Whereas class teaching requires that I keep things at a basic level, stay on track and can only address individual students for a brief period of time, teaching one-on-one with someone allows us to follow diversions that may come up, and to spend much more time on a specific piece of foundation if the student is having trouble with it.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded a small scholarship by Liz Vaesen, an instructor in Vancouver that brings hiphop workshops over to Victoria about six times a year.  As a result, I’ll be taking a dance workshop tomorrow in old school hiphop and locking from Keeley Kaukimoce.  It’s an honour to be chosen for something like this, and quite humbling.  Homework allowing, I’ll blog about my thoughts post-workshop.
Productivity

School is busy and requires a lot of time, but by staying on top of classes, reading, and managing my time effectively, I’m finding that I still have time to fit everything else that I want in.  We are given classes only from Monday to Thursday, and Fridays are reserved for make up classes.
So far, I’ve spent my Friday’s studying and fitting in a game of squash around lunch time.  With a little bit of discipline, it’s pretty easy to avoid falling into the trap of treating Friday like your weekend, and getting through a ton of your work.  I get up at the same time I do on the rest of the weekdays (6:30), put in four hours of studying, g
ive myself two hours off, and then come back for another four hours.  By the time I’m heading out the door to meet up with friends in the evening, I’ve completed most of my reading for Monday and Tuesday.  
One of the most valuable habits that I developed through my previous work in project management, and learning and applying the principles of GTD, has been minimizing and eventually quashing the tendency to procrastinate.  Defeating this bad habit is one of the better ways to squeeze more time out of each day.  You don’t actually gain any more time, but you are now controlling 100% of how you want to spend that time.  Whereas, when procrastinating, you are forced into undertaking activities that fit with the aims of procrastinating (typically short in duration, because you won’t allow yourself, mentally, to start anything big, knowing that you’ve got something else you really should be working on; usually somewhat fun, and usually a bit of a distraction – Facebook anyone?).
If you’re interested in more tips on eliminating procrastination, check out some of my archives related to Productivity and GTD.  Ah, excellent.. clicking on those links currently appears to be broken.  Bah.  Well, look for those later then.
The rest

I’ll end on a curio that Bay and I picked up this weekend at Future Shop, shown below:

IMG_2700.JPG

This little piece of plastic acts as a power-free amplifier for my iPhone’s speaker.  If you look, you can see taht the plastic has a series of curves cut out of the interior.  These curves operate on a similar principle (presumably) to that of many brass instruments, and you can see that at the end the cut-out spreads out into the shape of the bell of a trumpet.  Simply by putting my iPhone into this device, I can amplify the signal considerably, without needing any power.  Although you can see a wire coming out of this guy, it is simply cable that connects my iPhone to my laptop.  This can be removed without affecting the way this device operates, and is simply there to allow me to use the amplifier as a dock as well as it’s original purpose. 
I’ve got my homework/study space set up at home on our dining room table (though it’s pretty easy to move to the office), and I can use this dock to hold my iPhone when it’s acting as a remote to our home stereo.  That looks like this:

Laptop-and-AirCurve.png

Kind of cute right?  It’s pretty functional too.  When I want to listen to my voice memos, the amplifier serves quite well, as I just turn on my speaker and shoot them through it.  Makes it quite handy to process those ideas at the end of the day or week (during my weekly review).
Anyhow, enough of that.  More to come now that I’m back up, but until then, at least I’m publishing again.

GET DOWN!

August 6th, 2009 8 comments

Man oh man, what a week!

I gave my notice three weeks ago.  I had a week of vacation time left over, so I worked two weeks, had a week of vacation, and then will work one more week starting Monday.  We had some money that I had been given for contract work that I’d done, and Bay got to go to Brazil this year, so we agreed that it would be cool for me to attend a dance camp being offered in Vancouver (for the first time ever).

The dance camp was called Get Down.  Get Down represents a unique and rare opportunity: a chance to learn and train with the founders of some of the styles I’m into, such as popping and locking.  Let me repeat that: the founders of those styles.  It’s a little surreal being in class and having the teacher tell you “Now, this move is called the Romeo-twist, because my brother was wearing these shoes called Romeos, and we used to say ‘Yo, twist those Romeos!'”.

The instructors teaching are:

  • Greg Campbellock Jr
    • Greg did most of the choreography for the original lockers (back in the day when they were on Soul Train).  You can see some of that original footage below.  Cheesy?  Yah, a little.  But it’s also way funky.
  • Popping Pete
    • Popping Pete (who’s actually named Timothy) is Boogaloo Sam’s brother.  Boogaloo Sam, created popping and boogaloo.  Popping Pete has been heavily influential in the creation and evolution of those styles.
  • Sugar Pop
    • Sugar Pop is one of the members of the Electric Boogaloos, and someone who has come from the start of locking and popping to its current state.
    • You can see Sugar Pop and Poppin Pete both getting down here (Mr. Wiggles is in grey, Sugar Pop is in brown, and Shonn Boog is in black and red):

 

  • Caleaf
    • One of the founders of House dancing.  You can watch Caleaf dancing here (sound quality is terrible):

 

So, now you’ve got an idea of the caliber of talent that we’ve been fortunate enough to train with.  The best part is that all of these guys are really cool, and really good teachers.  On the first day, I was a little worried.

Suga Pop went right into teaching us choreography, and I find that I generally prefer to learn technique so that I can then take that and use it in my own freestyle dancing.  However, as the days have passed, I started to gain a real appreciation for the fact that all of these guys are really teaching us that what these styles are really about is dancing.

If you’re not dancing, you’re not doing the style, and it’s that simple.  You can sit there and hit the hardest pops anyone has ever seen in their life, but if you aren’t dancing, it doesn’t matter – you’re holding the music hostage, and that’s not what it’s about.  Dancing is a visual representation (and interpretation) of a given piece of music.

I’ve been reflecting on the experience over the course of the weekend whenever I find myself with a few spare cycles for thought.  When I went into the camp, I had a set of expectations and thoughts about what it was that I needed to learn.  I left the camp having learned something quite different, but far more valuable.

When the first couple of classes didn’t meet my initial expectations, I was a little bit disappointed.  “Why aren’t they teaching us technique?”, I thought to myself.  Actually, they were teaching us technique — they were just doing it within the framework of teaching us to dance.  You can’t have all technique and no dance, because that’s not…. dancing.

One of the things that Suga pop stressed a number of times was that popping is a style of dance that it is very easy to hide behind.  What he meant is that it is very easy to use good technique in popping and simply do that without having any groove or dance behind it.  Because of the illusions that the technique in popping creates, people watching will be dazzled, and the person can get away without actually doing any real dancing underneath.

The more we worked throughout the week, the more I realized I’ve been focusing on technique to the detriment of my ability to progress as a dancer.  Only time will tell where the correct balance lies, but it’s certainly something for me to keep in mind.

Know your history

This week was a lot of history.  I’ve always known a good amount of the history surrounding popping and locking, but none of that knowledge contained an understanding of the social dances that went into creating these styles.  Every time we’d learn a new dance from hiphop’s roots (and often dances that I’ve seen people at weddings do (poorly) just for fun), sure enough, there’d be some element or technique in popping or locking that had integrated that original dance in some capacity.

Learning these original dances really helped provide a greater understanding of the context surrounding the styles that I love, and also provided a really solid foundation to grab onto whenever unsure of what to do next.  Unsure of what your next move is?  No problem, just drop down into the original dance and get back into the groove.

Find.  Your.  Groove.

This was really one of the biggest things we had hammered into us this  week.  Don’t go out there and dive into moves.  Even though moves and tricks are cool, they can never be allowed to supercede just getting down.

It is challenging to articulate beyond these points.  I suspect this is because it is fairly orthogonal to the way in which I’m used to being taught.  The next couple of weeks will likely lead to a number of revelations on my part. The trickiest part about this experience has simply been that there was so much knowledge to absorb.  You do your best to pick up everything, but it’s just impossible to fully retain all of the information passed my way.  It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to parse that knowledge and understand what it means to me as both a dancer and a teacher.

Regardless of what I end up pulling away from the experience, I can absolutely attest to the fact that it has been one of the most significant periods of growth to date in my journey as a dancer.  There’s really not much more that can top that, is there?