Torben Rasmussen bio photo

Torben Rasmussen

Application expert at NSC.

(or the value of procrastination)

This is my first blog post and I would like to share with you why it came to be. It appears that I’m “new-tech-learning motivated”. I know, that label is a little too long and clumsy to say. I’ll have to work on that. Perhaps what I’m doing can also be called work task sugercoating, where my sugar is learning some new computer related tech stuff, such as a programming language, tool, or framework of some kind.

There are no limits to what you can accomplish when you are supposed to be doing something else

I’m sure that you are familiar with treat motivation for dogs. The dog is motivated for practising at learning new tricks as long as you keep those nice treats coming. Being “new-tech-learning motivated” is sort of the same thing, but inverse! I need to learn some new (in my case computer) tech trick in order to stay motivated for working at a task that I basically know how to solve. This primarily manifests itself for tasks that are a substantial amount of work and therefore need to be sugarcoated for me to get properly started with them. Hence, I wrap the work task in learning some new computer tech.

Watch out! Someone will maybe be tempted to cast this aside as pure procrastination, but they are wrong. It is a motivation strategy to overcome procrastination.

I’ll share two examples.


Last year, NSC was asked to host a SNIC user forum meeting, which had been dormant for many years. Of course, I managed to get involved in organising this meeting and get not one, but two presentation slots on my desk. Often with presentations, you have something to start from, for example, an older slide deck that you can use parts of or simply just update. In this case, however, at least one of the presentations was a completely blank slate for me. I had no previous material to start from and only a slightly intangible idea of what to do with it.

Daunting task requiring some extra motivation, so instead of firing up my usual weapon for presentations, PowerPoint (or to a lesser extent Keynote), which I probably would have done if I had an older slide deck to start from, I decide that I want to use a web/JavaScript based presentation framework. Now, this is a much less conscious decision than it sounds like and it’s probably not the fastest way forward, either. Somehow the situation just requires it and the learning experience becomes the fuel to keep me going. So what is wrong with PowerPoint in this context? Couldn’t that provide a motivating learning experience? Well, it did. Years ago. But now I know this tool, at least well enough, so it can’t easily trigger this kind of motivation anymore. It’s become, as they say, soooo last year/decade/… This intriguing and fascinating experience of mastering something for the first time has definitely gone out of it. Why web based presentation framework, then? Inspiration, of course. Someone inspired me to look in that direction.

The fact that there is a shorter path to your goal, probably just means that you’ve been down that path before. Where is the fun in that? And more importantly, what will you learn from taking that path?!

A while ago, my colleague Peter Larsson gave an impress.js based presentation, that impressed me. Hence, I started to look at that framework, but the 3D layout didn’t appeal to me, at least not for this presentation. I simply couldn’t figure out how to make use of it for the presentation at hand. Maybe I’ll give it a go another time, now that I know the basics of a JavaScript based presentation tool. Instead, I looked around for similar tools and fell for Hakim El Hattab’s framework reveal.js. It provides many of the familiar presentation elements, such as stepping through lists etc., and has a nice clean look. In addition, the 2D slide layout gave me inspiration for how to build up my presentation, so I’d found my motivator and was slowly but safely progressing with the work task.

Jekyll and Minimal Mistakes

What about the second example, then. Well, you are reading it! Or, at least some of the motivational wrapping from it.

My colleague Joel Hedlund who is the BMS coordinator for NeIC and heavily involved in organising the NeIC 2015 conference asked me if I wanted to organise a workshop regarding user support at this conference. Without thinking very much, I, of course, accepted this and soon realised that I only had this intangible and quite vague idea about how to approach this work task. Yes, you’ve guessed it. I sugarcoated the task with learning a little more about Jekyll and how to set up a web site using this tool. Why exactly this sugar? Well … I wanted a place to put the schedule and potentially some other material for the workshop. I could probably have used the NeIC wiki for this, but nah that apparently wouldn’t do for me.

Instead, I had a look at my colleague Peter’s blog and web pages and decided to either clone that or find a similar theme or framework to use. I quickly found the Minimal Mistakes Jekyll theme by Michael Rose. It’s minimalistic design and look attracted me and having a little experience with Jekyll from the NSC website this was pretty easy to get started with. Motivator found! The only “major” thing I had to hack, was more support for table styling, which I nicked from the Sass port of Bootstrap.

I wasn’t really looking for a blog and initially intended to just deactivate that part of the theme, but once in place I thought why not give it a go, so there you have it. The story behind my first blog post.

So tell me, what’s your motivation or work task sugarcoating?