learning, technology

Yes, I can make myself smarter


Stu, about to play a Seismic tile

Or, at least, I can build technical skills, go to bed with less anxiety and a bigger smile, and help my husband reduce his stress level. Maybe some of the things I’m doing will actually make me smarter, as some of the exercises do, in a recent article in the New York Times, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?”, especially if the game we choose is a memory game.

apple + zombie

Banishing zombie habits!

Just over three weeks ago, I declared one evening  per week – a mere 2-4 hours – as my “Geek Night.” On that evening, instead of procrastinating on my goal of learning to code, instead of watching an over-stimulating TV show or movie on Netflix, instead of dining out, and instead of squeezing just one more workout into the week, my plan is to sit down and work just beyond my comfort zone. The evening is reserved for a few hours of CodeAcademy, or if Steve is willing and I’d really rather not turn on the computer, some board or card gaming. Last night was the first night that we broke out a board game (featured above is Seismic, which I bought for us as a Christmas gift).

So far I’ve managed to do Geek Night, three weeks in a row, incentivized largely by frustration with my akrasia, but also by my desires to build my technical skills and to break out of my exercise-addicted rut. I hope to keep it up, else I may have to bet to make it happen. Money doesn’t motivate me as much as pride/fear of embarrassment, but I suppose it’s all in how you choose to look at it.

Why did I start Geek Night this month, rather than any other month? Perhaps via serendipity, as detailed below. Or sudden impatience with turning 43 and finally, formally admitting to myself, Steve, and friends that kids (i.e., having my own) have never been part of my plan so I damn well better get going on making my mark on the world in some other way. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that in this jam-packed of an April, some enlightenment might as well happen as well.


After a quake.

  1. At work, I’m helping develop mobile apps, and it’s looking like gamifying them is one great way to make them sticky. I play Words with Friends daily, and enjoy competing with friends to see who can visit the most new places in Foursquare (I have my own odd twist on the rules). However, we have a ton of neglected games in the house and I figure it will serve me well to refamiliarize myself with how games work.
  2. Game designer Jane McGonigal was recently featured in the celebrity runner column in Runner’s World. I’d never heard of her, but my husband had. I found her story and her work to be very inspiring. Later, I watched her TED talk, and it made me want to go home and spend the weekend gaming, or to see if I can come up with an idea for a game, possibly with the mobile work I’m doing.
  3. I continue to work in digital (web and mobile) design, but am feeling like my skill set would benefit from more expansion into technical skills beyond my design, Adobe, and UX experience. A few months ago I learned about CodeAcademy, and I’ve been noticing a growing desire in the technology world to get more women into development jobs. I’ve resolved to participate. The sad irony is that I did get exposed to computing and science in school and via fun weekend classes at the Pacific Science Center (thanks Mom & Dad!) but at some point in high school (right about when AP Physics kicked my butt) I got turned off by it, and veered over into the humanities for my academic focus.
  4. Last week, I went to a great UPAMN talk given by Julie Dirksen. It was titled “Design for Behavior Change,” and in that hour or so I got some review, surprisingly from my group fitness instructor training. I also learned a few things about habits, the power of emotions with decision making, and how willpower if finite but rechargeable. An interesting and related post from Julie, as well as the slides from her presentation, are here. I left the talk with some new items on my reading list, with renewed fervor and guidance for my UX work, and a general affirmation of my interest in fiddling with tiny, tiny details to improve experiences for people.

So, thus far in CodeAcademy I’ve earned 414 points, made 14 achievements, coded, sworn, and, yay, whooped the victory whoop over making FizzBuzz work. Last night’s choice to play a board game was a nice reprieve from the hard work, though it was almost more gratifying to enjoy a few hours of game engagement with my work-weary husband. He loves gaming so, and I love to see that sneaky sparkle in his eye, as he considers a clever move.

Marriage therapy? Expanding the brain? Keeping my weeknights interesting? Sure. Yay for Geek Night.