Weekly Update (21w10)

Car problems, trying to avoid burnout, and starting a small restaurant.

Sunday night, this time. That’s closer to “on time,” right?


I. Car problems and car “solutions”

In late January, Mattea & I took a 2000-mile road trip (with Davide, a Canadian here at Edyfi who hadn’t been on a proper road trip before and really didn’t know what he was getting into) from where we’re living in Utah to our house in Oregon and back. On the second morning of our week-long trip, we woke up to a smoking engine… not the best feeling, honestly!

It took us a few hours, at the time, to find an open mechanic (not many, on Saturdays) who could tell us that there was a coolant leak in our AC system. Fun stuff—really, because we could safely ignore the problem and keep going. Then.

This Friday, after also hearing some whiny noises coming from the engine when on the highway, I finally took the car into a local mechanic. 7 hours and $1110.24 (goodbye, stimulus check!) later, they’d replaced the AC system’s clutch and compressor and the car’s main belt. I don’t know my car lingo, but understand that something (maybe the lack of leaked-out coolant?) melted the clutch which started melting the compressor (maybe?) which was melting the engine’s main belt, which is bad.

So today, in celebration of having a car we could drive (without a voice over our right shoulders whispering “hey, what if your engine failed right now?” constantly), Mattea & I decided to go on a date and get a ton of groceries.

We walked outside, I clicked “unlock”… nothing. Hm.

I manually unlocked and opened the door—that worked great! I put the keys in the ignition, and turned to start the car… nothing. Hm.

Like, literally nothing. The engine didn’t sputter, the dashboard didn’t flash, the car didn’t suddenly jolt forwards into a church’s parking-lot hedge (long story). This is bad because—remember—we just had our car fixed; and fixed cars, to my knowledge, are supposed to do at least something when you try to turn them on.

Our car battery was dead—fully dead—but thanks to a friendly neighbor, we were able to jump it and get going on our adventure.

Fast-forward two hours. We’re back, the car is sitting in the driveway, Mattea is coming back outside after bringing in some groceries, and I’m turning my face purple trying to finish off the remnants of a milkshake quickly so I can help her.

“What’s that noise?” she asks. I look up; the car’s off, but the engine is whirring.

We open the hood; the newly installed AC compressor is working away, pumping a consistent gust up out of the engine. While the car is off, and the keys are out. Hm. So that’s why the battery was so dead!

While I took in and organized the rest of the groceries, Mattea talked to her dad (who knows how just about everything works) and brother (who’s a mechanic) on the phone; they figured out that we could just yank out the relevant fuse while the car’s parked, and put it in again whenever we wanted to drive. Should be fun.

Check back next week to see what the mechanic has to say about their $1100 “fix”!


II. Overshooting on single-mindedness

I’ve written before about how I’ve focused on too many concurrent things in the past, fragmenting my focus to the point where I’m unable to really get anything done.

Over the last month, as I settle into life at Synthesis, I’ve set out to hit the opposite extreme: systematically cutting out one hobby or commitment after another, I finally reached the point this week where all I do is read, hang out with Mattea, and pour the rest of my consciousness into programming.

And now I’ve learned that that’s unhealthy too!

I’m not sure how it is in other disciplines, but as a programmer I find myself with a very finite amount of focus per day. Depending on some variables—how I eat, how I sleep, if I exercise, and so on—I get between 3-8 “productive” hours per day, hours where I’m dialed into a code editor, fixing problems as fast as I can think. And unlike with physical tasks, when I’m done, I’m done—I simply can’t push myself through fatigue, because the craft requires a constantly sharp and agile mind.

So, when I say “I’m going to do nothing but program,” that doesn’t work. Sure, it helps max out the 3-8 programming hours I can milk out of each day… but it makes me feel guilty using the other 10-15 hours to do anything else, which causes me to feeling miserable most of the time instead of using hours productively in other ways.

However I choose to rationalize or explain it, this strategy of single-minded obsession hasn’t been helping me flourish. Here’s how I’m planning to improve:

  1. Figure out how to maximize my sustainable programming time (note: I can work more than 3-8 hours per day, it just inevitably burns me out in a week or two)

  2. Create a more rigid schedule, so I can use my mind and body in non-programming ways without feeling guilty. Right now, work has been super erratic: this week, the biggest consistent work time—in which I was working on all five weekdays—was 1 hour long, from 12:15-13:15. Ouch! I’d like to wake up much earlier each day than I am, and plan to do similar things at similar times.

  3. Find some other productive things to do—ideally for Synthesis—that don’t count against my “programming time” fatigue meter. I could probably tack on a few hours of writing or design without mental penalty, for instance.

(If any of you fellow programmers have recommendations on getting more than ~5 productive hours per day sustainably*, please let me know!)

* downing 300mg of caffeine per day doesn’t count as sustainable


III. Starting another business, to enforce a new schedule

When heading to bed last night, I wasn’t expecting to walk into a cloud of smoke, but such tranquility was not to be. One of the housemates here at Edyfi apparently decided that he wanted an Eggo (small toaster waffle) as a midnight snack… and put one, pre-thawed, in the microwave for TWO MINUTES.

After wrenching open the door and opening every window downstairs, I realized it was time to do something about people here not knowing how to cook—and force myself to wake up at 8 AM every day, to boot!

These scorch marks remained in the downstairs microwave at Edyfi, even after the poor charcoal-black Eggo that caused them had been dispatched.

For two months now at Edyfi, Mattea and I have been cooking for ourselves one or two times per day. Generally, we make easy things in medium-size batches, when we’re hungry and want a break from our work. Most of the stuff we make—pasta, break, waffles, etc—is scale-agnostic: we could make 2-3x the food for marginal extra effort.

At the same time, we’ve noticed that many of our housemates (including Mr. Eggo) order out consistently instead of cooking, spending dozens of dollars per day on DoorDash (an online food delivery service).

It seems like a natural market opportunity, doesn’t it? All we have to do is make extra food each time we eat, and sell it to them for 1/4 the price they’re already consistently paying to survive! As a bonus, we get an excuse to experiment with new dishes, get all the groceries we could ever eat for free, and have to get up at 8 AM because there will be hungry people, having paid, who are waiting on us to make them food!

The latter is the main reason that we’re opening “Caffé Colberg” on an experimental basis this week. For $3 (breakfast, which we want people demanding on time) or $5 (lunch/dinner), we’re plating up extra servings of our favorite foods for our housemates whenever we cook. We get up early, they save money, everyone wins!

That’s the plan, at least (and the reason we went to get lots of groceries tonight, triggering the dead-car-battery adventure). If it interferes too much with work or causes undue stress, we’ll probably raise the prices to kill demand or just stop.


IV. Weekly statistics (will be consistent eventually)

Books finished: 2

People called socially: 3

Hours where I recorded what I was doing: 55 (need to get better at this)

  • Recorded hours spent writing: 5

  • Recorded hours spent working: 23

  • Recorded hours spent reading: 8

Weekly statistics consistently reported here: 0