art with code


Three notebook system - part 1 / 3

In the past few years, I've started to gravitate towards a work scheduling / external memory system to keep my projects rolling smoothly. What I've got going now is a three notebook system, which, as you might guess, revolves around three notebooks. Let me give you a brief overview of the system.

I use the three notebooks to record what I plan to do, what I should be doing next and what I have done. The notebooks operate on different timescales. The planning notebook is concerned about quarterly plans. It moves along at a very leisurely pace. The daily notebook sets goals for the day and the week. It's got roughly a week's worth of goals on one spread. The third notebook is the work log. It records what I've been doing, how long it took to do it, and what I learned in the process.

When I start my day, I take a quick look at the planning notebook to remind myself of my medium-to-long-term goals. Then I write the first few tidbits to the work log: simple stuff like "6:30 Woke up, breakfast, shower. 7:30 Start of day. 7:45 Made Opus SA icons in Photoshop. 8:00 -> Write daily goals [x] ...". At the start of the day, I write my goals for the day into the daily notebook. At the start of the week, I also set some higher-level goals for the week.

The level of detail in each of the notebooks is quite different. The planning notebook deals in high-level plans and their measurable results. In it, I write strategic goals with planned quarterly-level tactics on achieving those. The daily notebook has weekly goals that support the quarterly tactics and daily goals that deal with the minutiae of scheduling and achieving the weekly goals. The work log acts more as a short-term memory extension. I use it to plan my next action during the day, keep myself focused and maintain a sense of progress.

With the three notebooks I've got guidance on where I'm headed in the future, what I'm planning to do this week, what I'm going to do today and how that's working out so far. The big idea here is to try and align my short-term actions to my long-term objectives.

As I progress through time, I tweak the goals as the situation changes. Tweaking the goals in turn tweaks the daily goal planning. The goals for the previous days are not the goals for today. This flexibility gives me the ability to respond to changes rapidly without losing sight of the long-term goals.

In conclusion, the three notebooks keep me focused on what I'm doing now and how that's going to help me in the future. The notebooks act as goal-oriented external memories at different timescales. By keeping track of my use of time, they also give me a better sense for how long it takes to do things.

I'll take a closer look at each of the notebooks in part 2 and go through the practical experience in part 3. Thanks for reading! What kind of planning systems do you use to get your work done?


Opus Live Wallpaper

I ported a bunch of the effects over to Android to use as a live wallpaper. The wallpaper is available on the Google Play Store as either a $0.99 version or an ad-funded version (hey, there's also a small fireworks wallpaper with a web preview). My total income from these over the last month has been a bit less than $5, so, well, it's been more educational than anything else :D

The effects look like the pictures below or the video above. I like having them as wallpapers, gives a nice feel to my phone. You probably need something like an Adreno 330 to run them well, so phones like LG G2 and above.

Porting the shaders over from WebGL was easy for the most part. There were a whole lot of performance tweaks that I had to apply. One of the most important ones was rendering into an FBO at a lower resolution and then upscaling the FBO to screen res. With HiDPI displays, the difference between full res and scaled up is not very drastic.

Another technique I used was rendering at a lower framerate. The prob there is that you want to keep the main UI interactive while you're rendering. If you do it naively with "render frame -> wait 2 frames -> render frame -> ...", and the "render frame" bit takes longer than 16ms, you'll cause the main UI to skip frames. Which is bad. The solution I arrived to was to render a part of the wallpaper frame during the main UI frames, then display the finished frame in the end: "render 1/3 of frame -> render 2/3 of frame -> render 3/3 of frame & display it -> ...". This way I can keep the main UI interactive while rendering the wallpaper frame.

But we're not out of the woods yet! Some wallpapers have a central part that is very heavy to render and edges that are cheap. If we split the frame into e.g. 3 slices, one of the slices would take the majority of the time, and potentially cause the main UI to skip frames. So we need to find a split that distributes the work equally among the UI frames. To do the partial frame rendering, I slice the frame into 8 px vertical stripes. On each UI frame, I render the wallpaper stripes belonging to that frame (frameNumber % numberOfUIFramesPerWallpaperFrame == 0). As the UI frame number increases, the renderer moves across the wallpaper frame, drawing it in an interleaved fashion. This gives me a fairly even split of work per frame and gets me a consistent frame rate for the UI.

If you have a try at the wallpapers, lemme know how it goes. Would be super interested in hearing your thoughts.

About Me

My photo

Built art installations, web sites, graphics libraries, web browsers, mobile apps, desktop apps, media player themes, many nutty prototypes, much bad code, much bad art.

Have freelanced for Verizon, Google, Mozilla, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Valve Software, TDK Electronics.

Ex-Chrome Developer Relations.