Friday, March 29, 2013

Traveling Lens

One of the most memorable activities of my college experience was joining the photography staff for Duke's student newspaper. I first came to college my freshman year knowing only how to use a basic point-and-shoot camera, but my curiosity and drive to become involved on campus, led me to join the photo staff of The Chronicle. After attending all the training sessions and shadowing upperclassman on photo assignments to understand the various camera settings, I found myself covering everything from basketball games and art exhibits to student plays and musical performances, snapping and editing hundreds of pictures a week. For the following two years, I took on the role as the Photo Editor of the Arts & Entertainment section and had a really rewarding experience getting to know the whole staff and discovering a new appreciation for photography.

A year after graduating I decided to purchase my first DSLR camera, a Canon Rebel T2i. At first, I was a bit disappointed that I had forgotten so much of what I had learned about photography from college since I had been out of practice for so long, but after skimming through the manual and a few online tutorials, I started taking my camera with my everywhere in New York on the weekends and snapping a few pictures. Since then, I've also made it a goal to travel to at least one new country a year and I've made sure to take my DSLR camera with me to all the places I've gone. This year I finally got around to putting up a website with some of my better photos from all my trips. "Capture the world through your lens" and check it out here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quantified Self Research Study

Last week I agreed to participate in a Quantified Self Research Study that was being done by IIT design students. The research study involved a lot of self reflection about why and how I started getting involved in the Quantified Self movement and what I've learned. Here were a few of the major questions that I had to think through and reflect on:

What do you track and why?
I started off using the health & wellness QS gadgets that track steps and sleep, like the FitBit, but I got into other forms of self-tracking because I was going through the business school application process and I wanted to start keeping track of my goals, tasks and productivity, since it was a busy time for me balancing projects at work with community activities and still finding time to hang out with friends and work on my applications. At the same time, I also wanted to track how I was spending my time and the activities that I enjoyed doing because one piece of advice that I kept hearing from others who had been through the process was to spend a lot of self-reflection time because it would help make it easier to write the essays which included topics like "What matters most to you and why?" This led me to start looking into ways I could track mood and happiness, so I started searching for other types of Quantified Self applications that I found either on the QS website or through word of mouth.

I also started using applications like RescueTime, which would give me a productivity score each week based on how much time I spent on applications like Excel, Word and Powerpoint vs. reading the news on the web or checking email. I needed some way to keep myself accountable and on task for getting my work done and I found it helpful to see a breakdown of the time and applications I was using to get my work done. 

What have you discovered?
Most of what I discovered in terms of my productivity ended up being common sense and I already knew the answer, but it was good to see the data to back it up. For example, I had an idea of how many hours a week I would spend working, but with RescueTime I discovered that my productivity averaged in the 80% range vs. 50-60% for other RescueTime users and I spent significantly more of my time in Excel and Outlook vs. other users.

From, I learned that I’m almost equally balanced between how happy I am when I’m focused on work vs. when I’m interacting with other people. That helped me realize that I’m more balanced between introversion and extroversion than I would have thought.  The data also showed that I tended to be happiest when I was either catching up with friends in person or on the phone or on Saturdays while I was volunteering for the mentoring program I'm involved in.  I actually used this last insight to help me write my business school essay on the fact that what mattered most to me was mentorship in the form of both being a mentor for others and appreciating the mentors that I had.  

Have you changed anything as a result of your tracking?
Even though I’m now finished with the business school application process, I’ve continued the process of tracking and still try to write and self-reflect each day, since I still find it helpful to review what I’ve done and what I want to accomplish the next day.  

Also, since I’ve learned that I’m more productive in the mornings than at night, I’ve shifted my schedule to wake up an hour earlier at 6am because I find it easier to focus and make sure that certain tasks get done first thing in the mornings rather than getting put off until the afternoon or evening.

In addition to mentoring on Saturdays through Minds Matter, I’ve now also taken on an additional mentee through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and have been more involved in advising local Chicago startups because I’ve realized that’s how I most enjoy spending my time outside of work.

I would also say I’m now more aware of things that have a large effect on my mood and energy level. I’ve been more consistent about fitting in a workout every morning no matter how short it is because otherwise I’ve seen my energy level decline earlier in the day and have I’ve needed more than one cup of coffee to keep me going.

Overall, the self-tracking data has helped me become more aware of what’s important to me, what I enjoy doing, and how balanced the time I spend is between aspects such as work, friends & family, community and health & fitness.

Did you start out of pure curiosity, or with a goal in mind?
It was a combination of both. I started out in order to keep myself accountable for the goals I had set for myself, both in terms of health & wellness and productivity. I wanted to keep track of what I was working on, get into the habit of regularly writing and self-reflecting as well as just remember the things I had done or the places I had been that I enjoyed the most. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pledge to Learn How to Code

I've been learning how to code on and off now for about two years. However, until recently I haven't been able to make much progress on my Codeacademy lessons and other free online Python and Ruby tutorials. I've learned that the biggest obstacle for me to learn how to code last year was coming up with ideas of applications and websites that I wanted to build as my personal side projects. Until I found something I wanted to create and a tool that I would enjoy making or would be useful to me, I couldn't motivate myself to keep finding the time to read through programming tutorials and go through the online lessons. I also realized that it took me a while to get back into student mode. By making sure to study a little bit each day and take notes while I was going through the lessons, I've now been able to get through almost all the Codeacademy lessons.

I'm also excited to see that learning to code has taken on a new movement with the viral video that came out recently from, which featured entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. After watching the video, I made sure to fill out the pledge to help every student learn how to code on the website here. It seems crazy to think that we all had foreign language requirements in high school and college, but learning how to interact with computers through programming was never a specific requirement towards graduating.

As someone learning to program now, I really appreciated how put together a list of all the resources people can use to learn how to program online. After finishing my Codeacademy lessons, I'm now looking forward to trying out the other resources listed on the website such as Treehouse. My goal is to be able to build my own Quantified Self-tracking application either through a website or an iPhone application, while also working towards creating a separate website to feature some of my travel photos. With a little bit of progress each week, I'm hoping to have a basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and iOS development as well as my two completed personal projects by the end of the year.