Posts tagged ‘time’

Relations with Time, Creation and Iteration

The essay project seems to be somewhat of a failure. This one has been over a year in the making: 2008-02-22, 2008-10-26, 2009-03-10.

Creating your own clock changes your relationship with time a little bit. The process of creating it changes things in yet more ways.

Once upon a time, I declared the The timeless world. That held for a while, in a sort of partially effective way that didn’t change too much since the first report. Then I invented my own clock. Suddenly it wasn’t dead numbers or confusing interpolation. Reading time was almost fun.

Of course part of being different enough to be fun is being, well, different. I very often don’t know what ‘time’ it is. I know it’s a little past dawn, almost lunch, or a couple hours to bed time. The things I actually use time for, without having to translate it to numbers in between. Occasionally I need to work with the outside world, at which point I do have to go through all that bothersome conversion; usually I find the position on the clock and switch back to visual mode from there on. One of these day’s I’d like to get some kind of event integration so I don’t have to do the conversion myself ;^)

A few months ago, I switched every clock I can to 24-hour time. A comment playing off the ambiguity of a time I had mentioned caught me in a problem solving mood, and I didn’t see any point in having such pointless ambiguity. It probably won’t be quite natural for some time, but at least I’ve started getting more accustomed.

The process of working with representations of time has finally explained something of the traditional system, and given me a little better understanding of what it all means. I suspect the standard 12 hour clock harkens back to the sundials. The top of the clock corresponds nicely to noon, and allowing a little fudge that changes throughout the year, 6-to-6 will cover the track of the sun, and most of the useful day, pretty well. On the other end of the day, 12 midnight is an anti-peak, operating in sort of a nighttime parallel image.

Another interesting feature of Disk Clock’s daylight view is that it has a sort of nice physical correspondence to the earth. One can imagine the clock as the earth, viewed down on the south pole, an image helped, by chance, by the green and blue color schemes in the default view. If you then imagine yourself in an non-copernican world where the sun moves around you, it can make for a somewhat nice intuition for the relation between times and places. I’ve thought about making some provision to mark out other time zones of interest, which would allow for a very nice way of seeing about what time of day it is somewhere else – assuming that somewhere else was at about the same latitude. ;^) There is also the very non trivial problem that timezones, while loosely based on nature, are political fabrications, and can change quite arbitrarily – dealing with only one zone has allowed me to outsource this problem to Apple and other Javascript systems.

The Act Of Creation

There’s something about diving into a problem and forging into new (to you) territory. I often emerge with my own private language, superbly intuitive to me and utterly obtuse to everyone else. As a case in point, Disk Clock’s default 24/4/60/15 arrangement can’t hold a candle to the dominant 12/60/60.

Another interesting case was the dragon form in martial arts. As our school worked through the creation of our own forms, the yet to be created dragon form got remade as a sequencing of certain (large) set of multi-step techniques. During a break, I got stung with an idea for how to do this and put together the last 3/4 or so of the form on my own. During the course of the project. I had to fine tune and re-examine all the involved techniques in order to put them together smoothly. I actually came to the conclusion that the process – in part the act of creation – was as much or more valuable than the resulting form.

My instructor thought that form creation was something for very advanced martial artists, however. Funny thing is, as time went on and we worked with the process of transmitting this large, complicated form to the students, it was decided that it wasn’t working out very well. The replacement? Students design their own unrelated form from scratch, rather than in the semi-structured format I worked with.


When I began Disk Clock, I started working on it every chance I got. After a little while, this settled into a pattern of working on the weekends, packing up the two days work and making a release at the end of the weekend. I tried to get all the ‘other stuff’ done during the week. This actually worked out quite well for several months, despite occasional short iterations due to a martial arts seminar or other event.

But I’m actually writing this from a much later time. The martial arts test eventually blotted everything out – it didn’t matter what the schedule was, because I wasn’t working on anything. By the time it settled down again, I was post-1.0 and didn’t have an obvious successor project; certainly nothing amenable to short complete iterations. The result was somewhat wandering attention.

I tried to keep up the weekend schedule for the most part, but a string interruptions often caused me to try and ‘trade time’, programming on into the week. Of course, this cut into the amount of other stuff I got done during the week, and often ended up impacting the next weekend, causing the cycle to start over again.

One nice thing about this pattern is that little programming in the morning was a nice kickstart to the day. It was also nice to do something joyful before going to bed, rather than depressing things until I got so down I went to bed, depressed. So, I’ve swapped. I’m currently experimenting with a little coding every day, and dealing with other stuff during the day.

Ups and downs, of course. I miss being able to really pound on a problem. But I don’t miss getting stuck on a problem for long periods. I’m never stuck for a single long time, and often times the break gives me a new idea, or allows me to get comfortable with the concept of some drastic re-factoring instead of reluctantly staring at the code searching for a better way. Meanwhile, I need to try and maintain focus on other stuff for long periods of time, which isn’t always easy.

Pacific Soul

One of those magazines which I’m thinking about canceling made the decision a little harder by handing me a nice concept. The article The Economics of Life in Balance (Regina Gregory) outlines the philosophy of the pacific islands, mainly through an imaginary dialog with Adam Smith From the setup:

I call the appropriate model “Ponomonics,” from the Hawaiian word pono, meaning goodness, righteousness, balance. Apart from being more culturally appropriate it is more ecologically sustainable as well.

Pono seems to fit my personal philosophy rather well, and I found myself drawn much more to the pacific side of the dialog (of course, the article was designed to do exactly that.) In any case, ponomonics includes things like working less instead of maximizing earnings, which makes it rather apropos at the moment.

About two years ago, I broached the subject of a reduced work week with my employer. With my new resolve to make changes, I re-opened the dialog, and we have a tentative agreement to work out the details and actually implement it.

The Timeless World

A while ago, the power went out. I wasn’t home, but all the clocks were reset.

I left them that way.

On the whole it isn’t very effective – I often need to meet people at a certain time, which seems to be the main use clocks. That and timing things, but I’ve been using the timer feature of the microwave for cooking. Only some idle weekends do I approach the full effect, and even then I still have a pretty good idea of the progress of the day based on the sun and when I get hungry. I’m also still tracking my sleep schedule, so I’ve a set of fenceposts on the day. Still, it’s nice to get away from the constant glances at the clock sometimes.

Time alignment

Lately, I think I have become past aligned.

One of the in-numerable ways to slice and dice the world is to consider where one’s gaze lies in time. Some people look to the future. They speculate about the future, have all the latest gadgets, follow new research, and perhaps even produce it themselves. Other people look to the past. The answers lie in history, the old ways are often better than the new, and the futurist’s unchecked growth is destroying the world. Some people talk about the ‘now.’ They don’t believe in daydreaming about the future or pining for the past: just live.

I think when I was younger, I was more future aligned. I devoured Beyond 2000 and other shows about upcoming technology, dreamed of giant robots, and took to the emerging home computers. Sometime after college I started drifting the other. To a large extent I think it was a growing environmental consciousness. Suddenly the new technology was fraught with dangers, and many of the triumphs of the past had side effects that were only now being uncovered. Embracing the future didn’t seem like such a safe bet any more.

Does this matter? I think it might, for symbolic reasons: Life grows; it assimilates it’s environment (changing it in the process), it evolves, strives, expands, acts as a generative force. Death decays; it ceases activity, stagnates, decomposes into the base elements from which it arose. Death is past aligned, and what I fear is that by being too far past aligned, I’m being cut off from the vital force. Of course a little reflection on the predator-prey model will tell you that neither extreme is sustainable; I think that I don’t so much need to become a futurist as find a better balance.

A somewhat related note was sound by one of my recent audio books, The Time Traveler’s Wife. To a large extent I think that fantastic element of time travel could be removed, leaving a story of a relationship where the husband is disappears for uncertain periods of time for more mundane reasons. The theme of ‘time travel’ becomes the moral of the story however; there is a very explicit admonition not to live in the past or waste time waiting for some future event to come down upon you. The time traveler also describes how he is unable to change the past, and the future always feels unsubstantial – only in the present can he exercise free will.

The war against time.

I think the war against time started the summer I stayed at college as a summer system administrator. (Interestingly, this is also the first time I was more or less on my own, with something like a full time job.) Casting my eyes about for a little more time, my gaze settled upon the hour or so (I’ve forgotten how much) I spent on a MUD everyday (Cheese boy having gotten me hooked a year or two earlier.)

The trend continued. Gradually, though less conscious, I bought fewer and fewer computer games. E-mail slowly piled up as conversations died of inattention. As the people I was role playing with moved farther and farther away, I eventually had to cut out that activity, trying to get back an evening and stabilize my sleep schedule along the way. For a while I went to a board gaming group, but the curiously frequent demand for Thursday night eventually felled even that.

Of course other things have filled in. Martial arts, having established a beached at one hour a week grew to eight (plus travel, cleanup, and seminars) I’ve also made a number of ‘slow’ lifestyle choices: I avoid fast food, often cook for myself, and ride or walk places when I can.

Whenever I cast my gaze about me these days, I come back to a few common themes: I chose, and continue to choose, the lifestyle mentioned above; any ‘efficiency expert’ would label me with poor time management (an ongoing battle); and I spend the greater portion of my waking hours trading time, that which I feel I lack, for money, something which, mortgage notwithstanding, far exceeds my needs on a month to month basis.

Several months ago, the final mental straw was laid, and I decided to renegotiate the terms of exchange for a four day week with reduced pay. However, to put it frankly, I was insecure. I went looking for information, guides, success stories, and pitfalls to avoid. So, for a while I read and gathered, found if there were any existing company policies, and wrote up something of a proposal. Ultimately I realized that it was irrelevant to my situation though; that would be appropriate for a bureaucracy, but I work at a small company, a single proprietorship where I talk to the owner on a semi-regular basis. Of course this is probably more a problem than anything: Imagine asking a workaholic to turn his attention away from a number of projects (all behind), with the continual threat of interruption by pressing concerns, to ask him about working less ;^) Which is a long winded way of saying a few more months rolled by. In the cumulative effect of it all, we went from relative idleness and makework to having a real project with a tight deadline (there’s a moral about procrastination for you.)

For any who would blame fortune, give it due credit as well: The Wednesday before christmas, the company put on a catered lunch and then most of the people went home. Myself, looking a long absence (I had more vacation days left than I had thought, and they evaporate at the end of the year. Given my feelings about time, I couldn’t not take them) and staring at a thorny problem stayed working on it for a while; indeed until I got locked in the building ;^) Here I cite the consolation prize for working weekends: a door key and security code ;^) But that seemed like a pretty song signal that it was time go home.

In my fluster, I forgot a tray of leftovers from the catering that I had grabbed when no one else wanted it. I had also heard my boss say that he would in catching up next day, and I had hardly left off in an ideal place in my work. So I came in the next day and spent a few hours cleaning things up and getting the code into a more reasonable stopping place. And then, at work on a company holiday, nobody around, nobody answering the phones, I had about the best opportunity I was ever going to have to broach the subject to my boss. He is open to the idea, but wants to put off further discussion until after the holidays.

My cynical side says he is hoping I’ll rethink it. I won’t, of course; I can’t. Baring significant new information, the best way I know to fight procrastination and improve confidence is to follow through and finish what I started. Which isn’t to say I don’t have some reservations, but sitting on the fence doesn’t make for forward progress.

It comes back to the deeper issues of the war against time. When I was hired (at which time, and for some time thereafter, there was a little more bureaucracy and I didn’t even know who the owner was) the expectation was stated (within flextime) as about 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The contract was defined in terms of time, rain or shine, booming business or makework.

Not that it has been totally constraining; I’ve worked long hours, and I’ve worked weekends; I’ve also left in the middle of the day to run errands. But always the clock is king: If I don’t leave hours after I arrive, I’m losing; if I don’t stay that long, I’m cheating on my contract. My basic discomfort with the four day proposal is that it isn’t fundamentally different. Time is still the unit of measure. 32 instead of 40. It is progress; it is change, it is testing the waters. But for all that I try to adjust my thinking from time oriented to task oriented, the terms of the contract are still time based. Ultimately the problem may be in my own head: the time anxiety is win-lose thinking. Writing this down makes it seem more evident that I should try to bring this up when we get to discussing the details. Perhaps that is why I wrote it at all.