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Diary of an Addict

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Diary of an Addict

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After four days offline (at least off my blog, see the previous post for more details), I have to face the truth: I am a computer addict. Here is a diary of the last four days, ostensibly without touching my computer, at work and at home. I tried to keep tracks of everytime I had to go on my computer. At home, that was fine (I have decided a few weeks ago that I should not check my email at home, in the evening, and in the morning, so unless I want to read the news, check on Twitter what’s going on, or write a post on my blog, I do not usually spend much time on our computer). But at the office, that’s another story…

  • Tuesday, April 2nd

6:17 Wake up, first day of the challenge.

8:17 Time to check if the code used for datascraping (on some websites) did run… It’s not like using my computer. It was just fixing problems for a future research. One minute, just cheking. Well, there was a problem in my code, I have to fix it (it takes much longer than I thought) and then, I ran it again (in order to exact some figures out of almost 200,000 internet pages). One code has been scaping a website for almost a week (and it looks like I have only one third of the data), and the other one, I have to run it everyday, to backup some daily figures from several websites.

8:32 While going to get a coffee, JF shows me the web site of the Antartica Journal of Mathematics (where he was kindly invited to submit an article, and also to apply if he’s willing to join the board) and we go through Rob Hyndman’s warning on his blog, about junk journals. No offense to the webdesigner hired by this journal, but we had a lot of fun on that website… so… nineties.

8:47 I have to go online, on my email account to download a paper I have to review. I had a reminder by an editor this weekend. Print the article. While seeking for the email, I notice that I did receive during the night an invitation to give my opinion about another article, for another journal. Just go briefly through the paper. Even if my (personal) quota for 2013 is already exceeded, I decided to accept to write a referee report. Also check something with a co-author. Quickly. Also read four comments on the blog submited during the night, and approve all of them. Damned! one of them mentioned a preprint related so something discussed in a post. Try to avoid to read the preprint. Go offline. Definitively. Turn on the music. Sacred music, namely In Seculum Longum.

9:39 After alsmost 30 minutes reading articles, I give up. I open LaTeX to type corrections for a couple of chapters I have to write down (and send them as soon as possible, the deadline was last week). So far, no internet. I take a gum, I feel nervous…

9:44 Go online to check how to use enquote{} in latex (it looks like I have some damned babel problems !) Go on several forums. Spent the morning working on my LaTeX files.

12:54 Back from lunch, I turn off the sacred music, swith to Sandinista, by The Clash,

13:14 JF want to check with me the schedule for my graduate courses for Winter 2014 session, one on extreme values and copulas, and one on time series. Have to go on the website of the university, to find what has been planed. Spend also some time seeking for old emails, since the information is only partially online.

14:02 Have to go online, one more time, to buy a ticket for the French railway, for a colleague of mine.

14:17 Mathieu asks me go check the emails received this morning, and to send an email in order to confirm that I will join a meeting about the organisation of a workshop.

14:40 Discussion with Mathieu about resubmiting an article. We need to go on my email account to check several (interesting) comments from the referees.

15:03 This time, I have to launch the internet browser. I have to find out how to avoid fist names in a bibliography, using a bib file, and get only initials. Some more time on LaTeX forums.

15:08 Remember that I have to book a room for a colleague, visiting me this August. Need to check the price on the webiste, and send emails.

15:19 Wrote a recommendation for a former student of mine. Send it.

15:26 Discussion by email with two co-authors, since we did plan to work on a joint paper this month.

15:48 Time to work on slides for a conference at the end of this month, and write codes to produce some graphs. So, still on my computer. But not (really) online.

Finally, I went back home early, to cook, and spend some time with the kids.

  • Wednesday, April 3rd

Second day.

8:17 Check again my R code. Run again one of them. Looks like there was a problem.

8:50 Go to give my course. Until noon, I spent the morning producing codes, to show how to compute chain ladder estimates, and explain roots of bootstrap in regression models.

13:03 Buzy red light on my phone when I get back to my office: it looks like some people at the faculty tried to reach me. Usually I do not answer the phone. I hate my phone: you want to reach me, send me an email. OK, in my mailbox, there are a couple of emails from the faculty “please, call us back, regarding the conference you plan to organize”. Damned, how can I tell them I am on a mission, that I try to avoid using my email (and that I have to deal with my phone-phobia at the same time).

13:16 Go online to check code for an R package I want to use to produce nice graphs

13:30 Check quickly my emails, delete 90% of them, answer to one, postpone others. Decide to go to work in a coffee shop, the whole afternoon. While taking the elevator, I started to discuss with a colleague. Looks like I missed an email about a meeting that will take place in the afternoon. I want to work on my chapters. I go to the coffee shop. Nothing serious in the meeting, as far as I understood. I spent the afternoon reading, checking typos in chapters that should be sent soon, and articles on advanced methodes in finance, based on trees… No computer for a few hours ! I did it !

17:49 I have to go online at home, time to pay my HydroQuébec bill. Damned !

17:56 While I am about to log off, I received an email from a former student of mine, with a link to a nice article (entitled “l’informatique, ça s’apprend“) I really want to share it. But I can’t. Less than 36 hours after my mission, that would be a defeat ! Do not go on Twitter !

18:02 Cooking for the kids. Will miss the Montreal Hackathon organized by R users. Wednesdy evening is not a great day to join those social events (could geek meetings be called social ?). My wife has a late course in the evening, and I still try to see how deeply addicted I can be. I finally decided that I will check my emails twice a day. But just to remove spams (or messages like “I am a student in a engineering program from India and I would like to start a PhD with you“, or “the back door in one of the building will be locked during the week-end from 22:15 till 23:42 for security reasons“) and to see if there might be important ones. Probably have to answer some of them, but I’ll try to postpone for most of them.

18:41 started a game of kid audio with the girls. Almost became a pugilat when they started to argue about kettledrum and snare-drum, I wanted to show them on youtube, but finally I gave up (there is an old saying: never interfere in a girl-and-girl fight). Decided to ask the elder to read a story to the youngest, while I was washing the dishes (which is usually the perfect timing for a dvd). Meanwhile, it looks like my son went online, for his music assignment: his teacher is using online videos to help them practicing. Argggg.

  • Thursday, April 4th

Third day.

8:29 As usual, checking the code for datascraping… reload the one that did crash (again) during the night

Error in substr(html, 8, 12) :
  invalid multibyte input string at '<e9>lair,'

Damned. Moving around 200,000 pages without being caught is difficult. Have to play some music. Gonzales, piano solo.

8:47 Have to check quickly my emails. The problem is that, on average, per week day, I have a bit more than 100 emails (excluding official spam). If I do now scan them, I end up with on thousand emails very quickly… Need to moderate a comment on the blog.

8:50 Still online, checking my emails, bad news about fundings for a student of mine, have to send a couple of emails to find a backup solution.

8:54 Quick discussion by email about copyrights for a chapter in a book

8:54 Have to send also emails to book a room for a colleague who will visit me in August

8:55 Postpone a Skype discussion with a co-author, still trying to avoid unecessary use of my computer.

8:57 Answer an email to schudele a meeting because a student asked to get a grade revision, and an adhoc committee is necessary. Looks like I am part of it.

9:17 Start to write recommendation letters for a Christophe who’s applying for positions in several universities, in France.

9:34 Back on the slides and the R code. On my computer, but offline.

10:11 Email, brief answer to a former student of mine, who might be interesting to share some datasets, but it looks like there might some confidentiality issues. I wanted to work on those data with a student, in September. Have to find an alternative.

10:45 Discussion with student in master program (face to face this time). Have to go on Dropbox to download a pdf file he wrote, and to download a couple of paper to check the proofs.

13:05 Work with Amadou, my phd student, need to find a pdf version of a book, since the property is clearly given there, but the book is out of print (no way to get a paper copy). Also go online to find a reference on a complicated model.

14:40 Email from Fred, about a reserving technique that seems new, from a paper he just discovered.

15:03 Upload on slideshare some (old) slides that do the same thing that this new paper (aren’t there anyone checking before publishing papers that results are really new ?)

15:14 Play Rodrigo y Gabriela, need something punchy to finish my day

16:56 Received an email from the immigration department, and I have to go to their website to find a doctor for a medical examination of the whole family.

19:26 Request by email from financial services to get the exact amount (in Euros) taken from my credit card. Have to go on my bank account, online.

19:43 Disccussion by email with Frédéric about one year uncertainty and bootstrap with overdispersed Poisson models

  • Friday, April 5th

Last day of the test. Fourth day.

06:18 My daughter wakes up and tells me it is unfair to have snow for her birthday. Have to go on http://meteomedia.com/weather/… to check for weather forecasts. Hopefully, we should have nice weather this afternoon…

08:16 Once again, checking R codes, still running this time ! Great ! Time to play some music.  Air,Premiers Symptômes.

8:38 Email regarding next week jury, checking legal aspects

9:04 I have to print bank informations, that I did download yesterday, check orders placed on Amazon in the last 3 months, scan documents, send them to financial services.

9:13 Have to check for an account number with financial services

9:15 Brief email to some contributors of a book that I should edit this year.

9:21 Lauch Skype, have to discuss with coauthors in France.

11:54 Received an email about courses in September, looks like a quick answer is needed.

13:10 Update the syllabus for the course I will give in September. Decided to write that cellphone will not be allowed during the class.

14:12 Work with Ben, a master student, on a paper. Need to scan notes I have written down to send him by email (this time, we did work together without using my computer).

14:38 Finished my recommendation letters for Christophe (for positions in France, more than a dozen recommendations). Have to send them individualy by email. Have also to find some email adresses that I do not have.

14:49 Received an email claiming that I cannot give my (graduate) course on extreme value in 2014, not in the official programm. Have to spend some time checking why. It seems that it has been removed from the list, and that the code has changed (hopefully JF was online to check that information much more efficiently than I would).

14:59 Received an answer from one of the colleagues I just sent recommendation to. We used to be students at the same time, a few years ago. Write a short email back to give (personal) news.

16:19 Started to type sketches of what can be the final exam for my course on GLM for actuarial science. So far 5 questions. Need to find about 40…. Will take a while.

Mission aborted.

I finally left the office later on, to pick up my son and bring him to his fencing course (to prepare for the Jeux de Montréal that will take place tomorrow). Went back home, then, for a cake with candles for my daughter’s birthday. Later on, had to spend some time online, on the blog, for my students. And started to type this post. So, here was the story of the past four days. I have to admit that looking back at those four days is quite informative :

  1. I cannot work without a computer, I can hardly work offline. No only for my research, to get help from forums on R and LaTeX, or to seek articles (the time I spent in Paris at the library making photocopies of old articles is clearly over).
  2. I do not only need a computer to write R codes, and produce LaTeX slides and artices. I need a computer… for everything. To plan meetings, for social interactions with colleagues, to find some help, to find a theorem, to book an hotel, etc.
  3. I understand more clearly why I am so unproductive in terms of research ! it looks like I spend (I was about to say waste) a lot of time on administrative tasks. Small tasks. But adding a lot of small tasks, finally, it is difficult to have 4 or 5 consecutive hours to work exclusively on some research project.

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Published at DZone with permission of Arthur Charpentier, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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