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Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Week Without Meetings

After several weeks of daily meetings at work that left me with little time to sit at my desk and relax, the past week turned out to be a welcome change. Our meetings with the IT person who was collecting the data requirements for our project came to an end. The IT person went off to create a data model using all the data we had identified as required. He said he would email us a preliminary data model when he was done.

The sudden lack of meetings was a little disorienting at first. But pretty soon, I got over the feeling that something was wrong and made full use of it. I caught up on other work that needed a little bit of my attention. I also had time to brainstorm various ideas with my team for existing and new projects. In short, life was almost as good as it was before I started on this disaster of a project!

And talking about this disaster project, we continued fine-tuning our project plans and producing presentations and other materials explaining what we were doing, why we were doing it and when we expected to be done with what. It was boring, mind-numbing work, but recognizing that beforehand gave me the freedom to devote as little time as possible to these tasks and devote more time to other useful stuff.

My project-planning for this project was done at express speed knowing full well that whatever plans I came up with this week would change in the next week. My presentations were skilfully composed of recycled slides from various other presentations, thrown together in new and innovative orders! Of course, if my manager really cared, he would have probably spotted the recycling right away, but I have yet to be called on it, so I know that he approves of my effort to cut down on the busy work related to this project.

The coming week is shaping up to be relatively free of meetings also. Obviously, things could change and my calendar could get filled up at a moment's notice. But the upcoming holidays will hopefully prevent that from happening at least for the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Our users finally signed off on the requirements document we had put together. So, we were hugely relieved not only that our designs did not have to change but also that we would not be sucked into another set of meetings with them to renegotiate our requirements. And we would not have to rewrite another requirements document (even though even under the worst case, it would borrow heavily from the current document).

In our "weekly" coordination meeting (which actually happened this week after a gap of over a month), only the project leader from the IT side showed up. His manager was busy addressing "some issue". He could not address all our agenda items in much detail, but we managed to clear some basic stuff off the list. We asked for documents and emails regarding the rest of it, but I don't hold out much hope of that kind of thing materializing from our IT department unless we pain them on an hourly basis!

All the extra free time allowed me to redo some things that had been bothering me about my blog for some time now. First of all, I did some painful research and figured out how to redesign the web search functionality on my blog. The Google adsense website is an opaque mass of technical mumbo-jumbo that makes it very hard for people to get what they want out of the ads they run on their blog and/or search engines. I guess that makes it easier for Google to just do whatever they want with these poor souls providing their advertisers with pageviews, practically for free.

I managed to set it up so that entering words into the search box and hitting Search results in an external page rather than coming up with search results inside my own blog. I also managed to set up some color schemes that I find better than the defaults. But I am still not happy with the border colors and some other aspects of the search results page. More research, at a later time.

My research was more fruitful when it came to adding some other useful functionality to my site. I stumbled upon a cornucopia of neat gadgets and other functionality to add to my site at the Free Dictionary website. It was easy enough for me to add a dictionary lookup to the left sidebar of my blog (below the Google Translate widget. The two of them obviously go together pretty well) that is capable of looking up words in English as well as a dozen or so other languages.

More importantly, I set it up so that a reader can double-click on any word anywhere in my blog, and instantly be provided with a new window with the dictionary definition of that word. That was pretty neat. You can try it out by double-clicking on any word in my blog, and it works on any word that is not a link to somewhere else.

I also added a bunch of widgets to the bottom of my page that are interesting and fun to the reader. These include not only informational stuff like "quote of the day", "today's birthday", etc., but also fun and educational games like matchup and hangman. You can find all these widgets as well as information on how to set up the double-click dictionary lookup on the resources for webmasters website of The Free Dictionary. Moreover, these widgets are provided to you with explicit permission for you to modify the code provided to suit your needs, so you can play around with the placement, layout, colors, borders and a host of other options. I thank them for their generosity in providing these resources.

As far as the content of the blog is concerned, I once again published an article on Access (running statistics), the next lesson in Vedic Mathematics (about merger operations), a detailed review of the TomTom One 130 GPS device (another of the GPS devices I bought for evaluation on Black Friday), and another humorous collection of street signs. I also wrote up articles for publication in the upcoming week and scheduled them appropriately.

The last time I talked about it, my Flag Counter widget sported flags from about 40 countries. In the past few weeks, that number has doubled and now my Flag Counter has flags from 80 countries. My newest flag is from a place I have never heard of called Aland Islands. Maybe when you see this, that number will be even higher, and my newest flag will then be from some place else. It is so exciting to see flags added to that widget on a weekly and sometimes, even a daily basis. I am not holding out much hope for more than a dozen flags at most beyond this point, but who knows! My state flag counter has also grown well and now sports flags from 47 states (including the District of Columbia). Here I know for a fact that it can not grow by even a dozen more flags going forward!

At home, my elder daughter has been busy doing a class project with a friend of hers. The project involves some research on ancient Egypt and the building of a diorama showcasing some interesting facts about ancient Egypt. This included the creation of a small mummy and its placement inside a small pyramid. Making this pyramid out of modeling clay has been taking so long that the joke in the house is that the real pyramids took less time to construct than this model!

My wife and I were not happy with the amount of time spent (we prefer the term "wasted") on this project by our daughter, so we have instructed her never to take on projects that did not involve just writing stuff about something. No building pyramids, bridges or whatever else might occur to her in her youthful exuberance! My daughter now promises that this project will be done within the next week, but I will believe it when it is actually done. In the meantime, the project has resulted in construction materials getting spilled and other messes around the house. And her math work is on temporary hiatus as well.

Time once again for me to get going and attend to various chores. There is laundry waiting for me, some dish-washing to take care of, and so on. I also have to take the kids to their music class in a little while. I am hoping the upcoming week would be as good as the past week was. I have to wait and see . . .

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