January 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lightswitches and OCD

I’m a little OCD when it comes to light switches. My particular obsession goes a little like this: #

A light switch should be up for on and down for off. When you have multiple switches, the light should be off when all of the switches are off. I’m not worried about the state of the light when all the switches are on, just when they are all off. #

When I moved into my condo many years ago I had two light switches that controlled the dining room light that did not meet my requirement. I tried to ignore it, but it would eat away at me every time I went to bed and had to leave one of the switches “on” so the light would turn off. #

After about a month or so I couldn’t take it anymore and I got out a screwdriver and flipped one of the switches so I could go to bed anxiety free. #

Now I live in a new house and we have a lot of switches. In fact we have enough that in some cases even after living here for over 6 months I can’t remember which switches control what. #

For the most part they all work as they should. The light over the stairs has 2 switches that are correct. The upstairs hallway light has 3 switches that are correct. The downstairs hallway light has 2 switches that are correct. But the kitchen has 2 switches which are wrong and the basement stairs has two switches which are wrong. I’m starting to get twitchy. #

Today I was thinking about it and realized I had no idea how these switches even function in the universe. I’m a software developer so I think of switches as boolean operators. They are on or off, true or false. Therefore based on this logic the switches should operate one of two ways. #

The first way is an “and” conditional. #

if ($switch1 && $switch2) {
	echo "Light is on";
} else {
	echo "Light is off";

The second way is an “or” conditional. #

if ($switch1 || $switch2) {
	echo "Light is on";
} else {
	echo "Light is off";

However neither of these are actually what I observe. #

Switch 1Switch 2Light
ononoff <- WTF

Up until that last row it was behaving as an “or” conditional and then things got real. #

Of course I had to research to find out how this actually works. Turns out my whole theory of light switches being boolean was false. #

There are obviously simple switches that behave the way I would expect. You have a wire on two different posts and the switch is either connecting the two or not connecting the two. #

There are also 3-way and 4-way switches. #

If you are wiring up more then 1 switch you will have 2 3-way switches (on the outside of the circuit) and 4-way switches in the middle (assuming you have at least 3 switches). #

So, how do these magical 3 and 4 way switches work? Glad you asked. #

A 3-way switch has 3 posts, let’s call them A, B and C. If the switch is in one position, A & B are connected and if the switch is in the other position then A & C are connected. #

A 4-way switch has 4 posts, again A, B, C and D. If the switch is in one position then A & B are connected and C & D are connected. In the other position A & D are connected and B & C are connected. #

To see how they connect to each other to make the circuit work I had to dig around a bit but found this awesome animation. #

How 4-way switches work #

It shows exactly how this multiple switch setup is possible. Which certainly makes me feel a little better. #

I’m not sure though if this knowledge will cure my OCD or if I’m going to have to go find a screwdriver again. #

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Identifying my priorities

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed. This is not unusual for me ever since my heart surgery I’ve been more aware of it. #

I’ve been reading books lately about goal setting, life planning and task management so today I felt I needed to do a brain dump and figure out what are all my commitments are. Some of these are more broad like Andrea (my wife) or Finances and others are more specific like Madison PHP or a new eStore for John Kovalic. #

Note Card Strategy #

So writing out all my commitments can be done any number of ways, but I personally find it a little tricky to figure out how to sort them. #

If there were only 4-5 commitments not only would I probably not need to be doing this exercise, but sorting would also not really be a big deal. #

The list that I came up with had 20 items on it and it was hard looking at a text document to really sort them out so I decided to go with note cards. #

I put one commitment on each card then I just took the first two off the stack and figured out which one was more important and put that in front of the other. Then I’d take another off the stack and I’d figure out where in the stack it belonged. #

After a few minutes I had gone through the entire stack and had a working list of priorities. #

Extracting Meaning #

One way I could have done this exercise was to order things based on what the current priority is. This way at the end you have a picture of why your life is the way it is. For me exercising would be at the bottom of the pile right under meal planning which is why I’m 60 lbs overweight. #

I didn’t do this though, I sorted my cards based on what I felt my priorities should be. This way when you’re planning your days and weeks you can refer to this order and make sure you’re doing things that support your higher priorities. #

One thing that actually surprised me quite a bit was that for me right now starting my own business is a fairly low priority. It’s still important to me, but so is everything else on the list. #

Part of the reason it’s so low on the list is that there are some shorter term commitments that I want to finish and take off the list entirely. Other items on the list may actually feed into starting my own business, but that’s not why I’m doing them so I don’t consider them to be the same item. For instance right now I’m taking a couple of online classes. #

What’s Next? #

The next step is to turn this list into action. If there are items toward the top of my list perhaps I need to create a daily routine that makes sure I’m making progress on those commitments. It’s also important not to just focus on just the top items, but make sure that I’m allocating time to the things that are important to me. #

It will also be important to not spend a lot of time or energy on things that are toward the bottom of the list. If I find that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about or planning my own business I need to either move it up the list or realize that I should be doing something else instead. #

What’s great about the index cards is that I can keep them on my desk and look at them every morning and even reorder them as I see fit. #

Published by Andrew Shell on and last updated .