Literally a few seconds ago as I pen these words, I received a jolly nice and friendly email that read as follows:
Hi Max, I am really, really fascinated by amount of the work you do, like publishing these many different articles from wide variety of subjects.
You seem to read a lot and at the same time you keep doing some electronics fun stuff.
I really appreciate the efforts you put in to articles on Programmable Logic Designline.
I have very kind request to you or, if I may, a suggestion that you please write an article about how do you manage your time?
What fascinates you and how do you keep yourself updated?
I am sure that this kind of insight from you will definitely help all the newbies like me in this area.
I hope I am not asking too much.
Thank you for all the articles you write. They are really fun to read.
Well, what can I say? I was going to reply to this message directly, but then I thought I would follow the original request and present my response as an article.What fascinates me and how do I keep myself updated?
I guess that the bottom line is that I really do love science and technology. On the science side, I'm entranced by all the things we don’t know; also the way in which we are "peeling the onion" and discovering new things about the world and the universe around us. On the technology side, I'm fascinated by electronics in general and computers in particular, along with all of the things they offer (communications, television...). I'm also enamored by mechanical engineering and machines doing "things."
With regard to keeping myself updated, I watch a lot of science programs on TV (plus a lot of other programs, of course), I subscribe to the Time
, and Scientific American
magazines (and also to the Reader's Digest
). As an aside, I love learning nuggets of knowledge and tidbits of trivia – like where something came from, or how something was discovered, and who did what to whom... and when... and why...
I also read books voraciously (usually three or four a week, unless I'm travelling or on vacation, in which case I read a lot more), from science fiction and fantasy (see my blogs What's the best time travel book
..., What's the best post-apocalyptic book
..., and What's the best Generation Starship book
..., for example); to horror (see Zombie tales for people with Brains
and The Reapers are the Angels
, for example), to science (see The Disappearing Spoon
, In Search of Time
, Reinventing Gravity
, The Smart Swarm
, Alone in the Universe
, Wetware – A computer in Every Living Cell
, and A Short History of Nearly Everything
, for example).
To see more of my reviews, you can visit the Engineer's Bookshelf
. The scary thing is that these represent only a "drop in the bucket" of the books I've read recently – any spare surface are on the tables in my office – along with the floor of my office – is occupied by stacks of books that I've finished and that are awaiting my review ... but I'd rather be reading new books than reviewing old ones (grin).
You should see my "Wish List" on Amazon. If I ever come into any money, I'm going to treat myself and place a massive order, the packing of which will leave the folks in the Amazon warehouse staggering around in exhaustion and disbelief (grin).
But we digress... another aspect to way in which I keep myself updated (or, to be more accurate, the way in which other people keep updating me) is the fact that I act as the editor of the EE Times Programmable Logic Designline
and Microcontroller Designline
websites. I also have a long history in Electronic Design Automation (EDA), especially with regard to designing silicon chips and printed circuit boards, so I write the occasional article for EDA Designline
The reason this is of interest here is that the various FPGA, MCU, and EDA vendors are always contacting me to tell me about what's happening in their industries, the trends they are seeing, the new products they are introducing, and so forth. This means that – rather than me spending time trying to find things out – people are coming to me wanting to tell me
And yet another wonderful aspect of all of this, now I come to think about it, is that having been around for so long and knowing so many people means that, if I do need to learn something quickly, there is always someone I can call and ask. As one simple example, someone recently posed some questions about the concept of "ground". Not being 100% sure as to the nitty-gritty details, I forwarded the questions to Bill Schweber, who runs the online Planet Analog
community. Within a few short minutes Bill had provided answers to life, the universe, and everything (Click Here
to read more about this).How do I manage my time?
This is a tricky one, because it seems like there is never enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done.
One thing I do is use the Outlook Calendar extensively. I know some folks use the Google Calendar utility, but I've been using Outlook for so long that it's second nature to me. So if anyone contacts me saying "Would you like a briefing on XYZ?"
I immediately bring up my Calendar and try to arrange a day and time that will leave me free to fit in everything else that needs doing.
Another trick is that I make notes of ideas and thoughts as soon as they hit me; at my age I have to, because if I don’t I will have forgotten them in a few minutes (grin). So I have a small (4"wide by 6"tall) notebook and pen in my pocket at all times, plus another one on my bedside table to capture stray thoughts while my wife and I are watching TV in bed along with any ideas that come to me in the middle of the night.
I also keep a big notepad on my office desk. On this notepad is a list of tasks I have to do. As new tasks come in I add them to the list; as I complete each task I cross it off. Each morning when I enter my office, the first thing I do is to turn to a fresh page, copy any uncompleted tasks from the previous day over to my new list, and off we go again (see also my Do you keep a to-do list?
Another thing is that I have a sufficiently powerful computer to ensure I'm not sitting around waiting for things to happen; I also have lot of display screen real estate, which means I can fit a lot of "stuff" on the screen.
In my office I have a monster tower computer with multiple multi-core Xeon processors, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and more hard disk space than I know what to do with. This "beast" would have cost a fortune just a few short years ago, but I purchased it as a refurbished unit for only $350.
This machine came equipped with an incredibly fast and powerful graphics card that could drive two big display screens. Since I actually wanted to drive three screens, I looked around to get a second card that was identical to the first. I almost had a heart attack when I discovered that a new graphics card of this type cost almost $500. Happily, I found a refurbished card on eBay for only $35.
I also ended up investing in three 28" display screens, which I've set up to implement a single, humongous desktop. Now, you may think that all of this is a frivolous expense, but I find it to be incredibly efficient. I usually have my email and calendar on the left-hand screen; multiple Word documents and/or Browser windows on the middle display, and my arts packages (Paint.net
) active on the right-hand monitor. The end result of having multiple applications visible at the same time is that I save a few seconds here and a few seconds there ... which really starts to add up over the course of a day, week, month, and year.
Yet another big time-saver is that the notepad computer that I use at home and while travelling is automatically 100% synchronized with my office computer with regards to my working data files and email (see also my Backing up and synchronizing your data
and Synchronizing your email across multiple computers
Thinking about it, I always have my iPad close to hand, so even when I'm sitting on the sofa watching TV with the family, for example, I might also be found searching the web and making notes and emailing ideas to my work account. Recently, I've started using Clipix
to keep track of any interesting articles and websites and resources I blunder across whilst meandering my way around the web (see my blog Is this the tool we've all been waiting for?
One final suggestion I have would be to "Always be doing something!"
People often say things like "I don't know how you manage to write all those articles"
or "How to you get so much stuff done?"
The answer is that I try to make full use of all of my time (it's not an effort – I'm just "wired" that way). One example of this would be while I'm reading a book I'm also making notes as to the interesting things I find in it. Another example is that if there are five minutes to go before a conference call starts, I don’t just sit around "twiddling my thumbs," but instead I answer an email or two, or maybe post a response to someone's comment. The main thing is that I always like to be doing something...Hobby projects
One thing that didn’t really seem to fit into any of the above discussions is that I always have a few hobby projects on the back burner. For example, my Man versus Woman Display-O-Meter
, my Heath Robinson Rube Goldberg Computer
, learning to Play the Ukulele
, creating my Antique Television Diorama
, and – most recently – building my Van Gogh Mosaic
The more technical hobby projects provide me with the impetus to go out and learn whatever I need to know to make them do what I want them to do. The non-technical projects – like my mosaic – stimulate me to learn other things.
The main thing (he said, switching into full-blown "Pontification Mode"
) is to maintain your enthusiasm for whatever it is you are doing. It's not that life is all fun and games. Everyone has parts of their job that they don’t really like doing. The trick is to approach even the things you don’t like doing with gusto in your heart and a smile on your face and a pleasant word for whoever you pass by. If you can do this, then you will REALLY have fun with the things you do like
But what do I know (grin)? What do you think?
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