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Planning for spring break 2018

Grinnell’s amazing two-week-long spring break [1] is nearly upon us. And folks are naturally asking me (and other people), So, what are your plans for spring break? My quick answer is to say something like, During the first week, I’ll grade. During the second week, which is also the high school spring break, I’ll spend time with family. But I’ll clearly do more than grade and spend time with family.

Normally, I prepare for spring break by attending one of Karla Erickson’s awesome seminars on career planning. Unfortunately, this week it conflicted with my normal teaching times. Since I can’t make Karla’s meeting, I’m doing a simplified version on my own. What comes first? Oh, right, three deep breaths followed by thirty seconds of sitting quietly. One. Two. Three. Okay, I’m ready.

Next, we generally think about groups of things we have to do, putting them in different kinds of buckets.

Let’s see … I’ll make a bucket for the things I’m looking forward to during spring break.

  • The high school jazz band has a concert this Saturday. I’m excited to attend that.
  • I think I can make it to one of the stops on the Grinnell Singers tour. I’m also excited to attend that.
  • Solo and small group ensemble day is coming up in a week. Youngest son has six or so performances. Those will be fun to see [2].
  • We have a dinner at Relish at the end of break and Eldest Son will be coming in to attend. I expect we’ll have time for other things, too. Perhaps even a game or two.
  • I have a number of activities planned with Youngest Son during the week he is off, and I am trying not to plan anything that interferes with those activities [3].
  • And I hope to sleep in a few days [4].

Next up are my responsibilities at home. For these tasks, and those that follow, I will estimate how much time they require in terms of days [5].

  • My home office is in much worse shape than my work office [6]. I should make forward progress on the home office. [Estimate: 1 day]
  • I need to finish taxes. We’ve done most of our taxes. What’s left? I haven’t put together our list of charitable deductions or my too-long list of business expenses. [Estimate: 1/2 day]
  • I need to do some work on my car. Nothing major, but it’s still probably a half day of work. [Estimate: 1/2 day]
  • And then there are the normal set of things that have accumulated during the first half of the semester. [Estimate: unknown]

I joked that my break is grading and family. But I really do have a reasonable amount of grading to get to.

  • I need to finish grading exam 2 for CSC 151. I was in the midst of grading that exam when my primary laptop died. Hence, I’m not exactly sure where I am, but I need to finish. [2 days]
  • I’m behind on a lot of the grading paperwork in CSC 151. I need to get to that. [1/2 day]
  • I’m behind on a lot of the grading paperwork (and some of the grading) in CSC 321. Since that course is over, I should get preliminary grades to students. [Between 1/2 and 1 day]
  • I’m behind on a lot of the grading paperwork (and some of the grading) in CSC 322. There’s also a new assignment coming in just before break. I should get that done. [Between 1/2 and 1 day]

Are there other teaching responsibilities? Almost certainly. Let me see.

  • I need to write the next exam for CSC 151, since we’re distributing it right after break. Writing the exam will also involve some email back-and-forth with the teacher. [1/2 day]
  • The design of the Jekyll-based course Webs is starting to be a bit of an obstacle. The biggest problem is that the data are stored in individual files, rather than a centralized location. I hear from a colleague that they’ve found a natural way to deal with the issue. I’m going to explore how to incorporate their ideas into my course webs. [1/2 day]
  • Here’s an optional thing: I hear reports from students that they already miss the old version of CSC 151, which focused on algorithms for image making. We switched to the new version for a few reasons, one of which was ensuring that the course was accessible for students who had vision impairments. We also thought the new version would be equally exciting. And I think it is, for some students [7]. But our long-term goal is multiple versions. One thing I’ve learned from the new version is that we’re much better off without strange libraries I write in C to get DrRacket to communicate to Gimp. So if we go back to the old version, we need to do so with something closer to DrRacket’s built-in image libraries. I’d like to spend a few hours playing with that idea. I may even play with ideas of sound in the course. This responsibility is more fun than work, but it is work-related. [1/2 day]

I’ve let a lot of departmental paperwork pile up. Spring break is a good time to catch up on paperwork.

  • I need to write the application form for the department’s scholarships to send students to the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing and to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I also need to write some recommendations to students on how they write good applications for money from elsewhere in the institution [8]. [1/2 day].
  • I am responsible for part of our department self-study. I’m not responsible for analyzing data; we don’t have those yet. But I need to write the department history and a description of the department [10]. I’ve also written a general description of the College for the report. [1/2 day, if things go well]
  • The department recently joined the NCWIT [11] Academic Alliance and I serve as designated department representative. I believe that means that I have some tasks to do. I’ll need to figure those out and get them done. [1/2 day]
  • I think the department should become Access Computing partners; after all, we value issues of accessibility for diverse students. But I never find the time to write the application materials. If I don’t have it on my list for spring break, I’ll never get it done [12]. [1/2 day]

Is that really it? It feels like there should be more. Wait! I’m not chair! That’s why my workload seems lighter. Poor Jerod. He also has to write a position proposal and more stuff. I guess that’s one more task.

  • Review other departmental materials. [1/2 day]

Speaking of paperwork, I almost certainly have institutional paperwork to get done.

  • I had a report on the code camps due in early January. I should write that report. I also need to run some ideas from the report by my collaborator. [1/2 day]
  • I expect that I owe a report on my trip to SIGCSE to my funders. [1/4 day]
  • Enough things have happened recently that I should also update my
    1. That’s not really a piece of institutional paperwork, but it’s still paperwork. [1/4 day]

I have professional responsibilities beyond the institution.

  • GHC scholarship reviews. [Between 1/2 day and 1 day]
  • A new policy for SIGCSE student volunteers. [1/2 day, if I include the expected discussion]
  • Consider options for the future of the SIGCSE Student Volunteer Management System. [1/2 day, if I include the expected discussion. At least this will be potential musing.]
  • Clean out old accounts from the SIGCSE-members mailing list. [1/2 day]
  • Work on the new SIGCAS Web site. [1 day]
  • Figure out what I should be doing for COPE. [1/4 day]
  • Write a sample case study based on the Berkeley courses. [1/2 day]

Particularly given that my primary laptop is misbehaving, I have a variety of work to do just getting my digital life in order. I don’t really expect to get most of it done, but I’m listing it here anyway.

  • Either (a) attempt to get my primary laptop booting correctly with some regularity or (b) gather enough failure data that I can get it repaired. [1/2 day]
  • Design a more sensible way of synchronizing my primary laptop and my backup laptop. I expect that I’ll end up with a hybrid of Cloud Storage (for the less confidential things) and scp with an external disk (for the more confidential things and the larger things). [An optimistic 1/2 day]
  • Design a strategy for backing up my backups. I’ve had too many backup disks die, so I should probably be cloning them. [A 1/2 day that will probably wait until summer]

Putting it all together, I have the following to do during spring break.

  • Time primarily with family: At least 8 days.
  • Home responsibilities: 2 days.
  • Grading: Between 3.5 and 5.5 days.
  • Other teaching: 0.5 days of required work. 1 day of optional/fun work.
  • Department paperwork: 2.5 days.
  • Institutional paperwork: 1 day.
  • Other professional responsibilities: About 4 days.
  • Dealing with my digital life: 0.5 days of required work. 1 day of optional/useful work.

That appears to be at least twenty-two days of planned stuff [14] plus two more days of optional, fun, or useful work. Since I only have sixteen days of spring break, it’s not going to all get done. I guess I’ll just need to prioritize [15]. What will I prioritize, other than family? It will depend on my mood. I should also acknowledge that if I muse daily for two weeks, that’s another two days of work [16].

I almost forgot! I was writing this in terms of one of Karla’s sessions. So I need some better questions to help myself prioritize.

What’s most important? Time with family.

What are others counting on? or What has the most strict deadline? Exam grades in CSC 151. The new exam for CSC 151. Grades for CSC 321. GHC Scholarship Reviews. The Grinnell CS GHC/Tapia Scholarship Form. My contributions to the self-study. The code camp report. Most likely getting my laptop in order. Taxes. My car. Whoops! The list is getting long. I think it’s time to stop now.

What will you most enjoy doing? Other than spending time with family? Thinking about how to write the new version of CSC 151. Possibly the daily musings. Checking things off the list. Also sleeping in.

As you look ahead toward summer, what do you need to do to prepare for your summer work? Get the code camp report done. Send a slew of messages to my summer students. Talk to family about the various summer trips. Update my calendar with the code camps. Whoops. It feels like I need to add another category or two above.

What categories have we missed? Well, I just established that Prepare for summer is likely an important category. It may even be time for me to starting thinking about preparing for fall.

That’s enough for now. I’ll report back in three weeks or so on what I actually got done and how much time each task I completed really took [17]. We’ll probably also discover that I forgot a moderate number of necessary tasks. I look forward to comparing plans to reality.

Believe it or not, but it’s helpful to realize that I can’t succeed in doing all of the work I should do. I just have to make sure that my reaction isn’t If I can’t do everything, I’ll just do nothing.

[1] Two weeks may seem like a long time to you. And it is. But I’ve heard from at least one colleague that they really need a three-week-long spring break.

[2] Given that number of performances, I should probably volunteer at the event, too.

[3] Whoops! I need to make some plans for those.

[4] I realize that it is healthier if I get up at the same time each day. Nonetheless, I enjoy the feeling of being able to sleep in.

[5] That is, in terms of those mythical eight-hour days that I keep hearing about.

[6] It helps that I have an assistant that works on my work office with me once per week.

[7] In fact, I just had one email me and say The data science focus sounds really interesting. What are my chances of getting into the course this fall

[8] It used to be that I’d try to ask different funds for support for the two conferences. But I’ve now heard from the funds that they’d rather hear from the students directly. It’s more work for the students, but it’s probably good for them to think about how to present the benefits to others. It will also be more work for me because we still want to route some of the funding through the department [9].

[9] If we pay for enough students to go to Tapia we get a table. Hence, it’s important to know how many we’re paying for.

[10] I need to figure out what is meant by description of the department.

[11] National Center for Women in Information Technology, or something like that.

[12] I probably won’t get it done during spring break, either. Nonetheless, if it’s not on my list, it certainly won’t get done.

[14] Maybe twenty-four days, if the CSC 321 and CSC 322 grading take a full day each. They probably should.

[15] Alternately, I can work longer days. Twelve-hour days permit one-and-a-half days of work, right? Of course, that means it won’t be much of a break.

[16] An average musing takes me about an hour to write. Over the sixteen days of break, I will write for sixteen hours, or two eight-hour days.

[17] Since I’m logging my life, I can also look at broad patterns of how I’m spending time during the sixteen days of break. That may mean that I’ll need to start logging some things that I don’t normally log, such as family time.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-03-15.