Monday, February 19, 2007

On Writing

Kimota94's post (jeez, count how many times I've started with that) on Neil Gaiman's post stuck a chord with me. Kinda obvious because I'm taking the time to generate a post. I love that description too. From what I can recall off-hand, I think that many good writers create in the way described. Which is to start with an idea and see where the writing takes them. I hope to reinforce that it is not unusual and that Kimota should feel a kinship with those excellent writers.

The more I think about writing in that way, the more I realize where research fits in. Something sparks and idea, a curiosity, a twinge which leads to exploration. That may involve notes and years and books and conversations, but really it builds an internal understanding. After that's festered long enough, characters can than play on that skein, emerging then sliding to the background - inhabiting it. Then, as a writer, you just follow those characters around and record what they say.

I wish I had an idea to follow around... I'm sure there'll be one, but not yet. I'll have to practice with smaller stuff. Create some characters and maybe revive some old ones. Like the guy with white t-shirt, stained with gumbo and scorched from his chicken flambe. Never said much, but boy did he like chicken flambe. Every day he made it. Grades 7 and 8 were good times. But I feel that belongs to past-me, and future-me should come up with his own darn characters!

A poignant post and excellent discussion.

What? Who? Blog?

Been a while... I guess I should, you know, use the computer every once in a while if I want to write stuff in the ol' blog. Well I haven't been, but I am now.

So many things preventing me from writing recently. Things like sleep and tiredness and family and ... well that's enough. Didn't get close enough to the computer this weekend to even think about posting. Friday was pretty good - the feature team went out for a team-building exercise known as "lunch". The group has been out 3 times now (since I joined) and we've been to Montana's twice. I think it was a time enjoyed by all. Good food and still work conversations - no one minded my droning on and on because I picked up the check I guess. Secretly I also hope it was because I was talking about interesting stuff, but I can never be sure.

Saturday was pretty nice too - kids went over to the grandparent's place and we had Special Pad Thai, with Vietnamese Espresso smoothies with avocado. Ben Thanh is good. Those smoothies are completely evil - made with strong espresso and condensed milk, I am compelled to get it every time I go to BT. You'd think the avocado would be weird, but the taste is excellent. Don't think about it, just order it. There's a reason it costs a buck more than the other smoothies. Good relaxing evening.

Sunday visited my aunt and grandma. My grandma's birthday is coming up, but we stopped by and had cake. It's really only a matter of time now, but so far she's been doing okay since they diagnosed the brain tumor. Not the most brilliantly joyous occasion, but everyone is happy for whatever time we get now. She made it to 90.

I was beat when I got home. The boys were pretty good all day, so it wasn't them that wore me out. Not sure exactly why, but I'm not really going to look for serious reasons - I'm going to look for a couch. And that was nice. Awoke to the Pens playing the Caps and that was nice. Hit they hay (relatively) early too - needed sleep.

Not a bad day today either - couple of good meetings and some early interactions that cleared up some things for the team. Now this. What could be better... Hockey, yes. Hockey comes after sleep though...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mr. Mann


No, I wasn't paying attention Miss Billingsworth. Terribly distracted - I'm having trouble focusing on anything.

Really? It doesn't seem like an attention deficit is something that could be caught, but I will take you at your word.

There's no reason, no root cause - at least nothing I can point to. Things have been proceeding as well as they ever have...

Like Winnipeg street in the spring yes. Guess I've used that one a little too often. Consistency, habit is everything, so the minor disruptions are the norm. Can't say that the disruptions are more or less "normal" - I don't have some kind of crisis bell curve that I can pin things to. No, it is a general feeling of unease. But why would anyone else be experiencing the same deviations? There must be a common thread...

No Miss Billingsworth, I don't think that you are the source. I thought my calm demeanor would point to the opposite conclusion. Excellent idea to search for simplest commonality. No, it has to be something else. I suspect it is something more ephemeral, something like the great conjoining of coincidence, of relationships and news stories, things with no really business being in common...

I am not paranoid!

Yes I sound paranoid, but I'm not! This is not some delusion, some conspiracy theory. It is a different kind of sensibility. The human mind can behave as a giant filter, something that most call "intuition". Intuition is the result of filtering new experience through the canvas of experience. Since it is an emergent property of the mind, it is impossible to point to a simple conglomerate of facts as the cause of any output.

Well, do you?

So, if I'm not crazy and you still don't agree, what is the basis for your disagreement?

But the mind is an evolving thing. It has a purpose, if not a life, of its own that is in constant flux. Not that everything is changing all the time, but that any change is possible implies that novel abilities emerge.

This isn't some Marvel universe where magic DNA alterations lead to special powers. Powerful new properties could emerge at any time. They may never be recognized or repeated, so that makes it difficult to prove my point. I think...

Well, if someone could possibly relive our conversation in the roiling future-now, I'm sure they'd agree with me.

No it isn't fair, but I've already asked them and they agree.

Well, I have a number I can call....

No you may not have it! It violates several of the classical laws of space-time so...

I don't know some kind of cellphone. All I know is that it is wireless.


I can't believe you thought it was true! You're so naive Miss Billingsworth!

No, it's a compliment! If you aren't naive, I should go into politics. Some kind of post-Einstein intergalatic communication platform - "Everyone must be able to communicate across the cosmos before we can solve our problems here!"

Alien Phil - very funny. Who would want to talk to that - it probably tell you to stop calling and solve your own problems.

So, do you still think I'm off base with the idea of emergent mental properties?

All it took was some time and a gravitational cell phone to convince you!

Gravitational - bends the fabric of space time...

Guess that is too much of a leap. Still haven't figured out what is bothering me though...

One tenth

I realized today that I hit 60 posts on the same day the Kimota94 hit 600. Not like anyone who reads this stuff cares about numbers or anything... It's probably the most exciting thing that happened today. I am getting disappointed in myself for not writing some fiction of my own. Reading my previous posts, you may notice that it is easy for me to follow a topic - you know, let someone come up with an idea and let that trigger my own output. Coming up with a theme, a concept or what-have-you for some fiction has been a little more difficult.

I always delighted in creating something unexpected from a supplied topic when I was assigned writing. Like some of my own posts, I've never had any problems proceeding from the merest starting point. I guess I'm hoping to put a little more meaning into what I write now, so I'm worrying more about exactly how to start. Shouldn't really - the best stuff evolves and I should go with that. Not like there is some kind of output limit on a blog, so taking time to get somewhere wouldn't hurt.

Friday, February 9, 2007


This day has had a strange pallor, a weird vibe a... something to it. The young woman (young == younger than me) who rang my purchases through this evening commented that it was going to be a long, lonely night. I noted that work felt like a ghost town at 5:01pm.

I was eager to play hockey today as the regular Tuesday game was canceled this week. Got up on time for the earlier start, except the light snowfall meant I had to shovel the driveway. Note the shovel - not blower. I'd like to point out that the human machine is much more environmentally friendly. Mainly because you have to keep the human in good shape either way (ie. you eat, you breathe). Plus you can pick up a shovel with little preparation. And you don't have to purchase and mix gas. Getting back to hockey, it was a really good game today. There were more people out than the previous weeks and some guys who were really handy with the puck. Got to spend the game trying to generate offense (offence?), another nice thing. Got a nice garbagy goal - bounced off the glove and almost straight up. And over the shoulder and in, with a nice gentle plop. Got some nice shots through from the point. Ran into a coworker (by accident - really!) in front of the other net. I was cutting hard from the wing (without the puck) and he was moving to a defensive position and our paths intersected. No harm, no foul.

Got to work in time to provide some assistance for a demo. It was good for me - I learned quite a bit about what was being demoed. Spent most of the day doing administrative type work, after getting some release notes together. Didn't get to see off my co-worker on his big trip, but I really appreciated his help today. Got through some meetings with customers pretty well - think I have a handle on what is going on. Just have to keep that up and get my own stuff done next week.

Saw a bit of "Pros vs. Joes" on Spike tonight - the most painfully funny sports-related thing I've seen. They took 5 pros (from baseball, football, an olympic swimmer, an NBA star and a WNBA star) and 3 Joes who never really skated and had them do an ice hockey challenge. They had to put 5 pucks in the far net in the shortest amount of time - Joe with the smallest time wins this round. There were 2 Joes in this and 2 Pros. The Joes picked the NBA star (6' 7", 290 lbs man who doesn't skate) and the swimmer (who doesn't skate). The basketball star was surprisingly good - he was done in about 2 mins. The first Joe was the painfully funny one - 5+ minutes. He fell every few seconds, and I noted a few things that the shinny players will understand: 1) no elbow pads 2) figure skates.

I was thinking about this challenge, and I think that I would typically shoot the puck about 10 times in 1 min, after playing for an hour. That's with 3 pucks and having to retrieve them. Really illustrates why you have to learn how to skate first... Painful! I saw a preview that showed there will be an episode with Claude Lemieux as one of the pros... That would be interesting to see.

Sorta surprised at Kimota94's output today... or maybe not. Being home with all that time off meant that the blog was whimpering in the corner, knowing what's coming. Admirable output - and some good stuff tonight too!

Guess I'm going to have to put some time aside and come up with some story ideas. Been itching to start something, but haven't found anything compelling. Guess I should start small and work up. But we'll see.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Am I missing something?

Probably. Moving into the role of Feature Lead at work, but I keep getting the impression that I'm forgetting to do something, or that someone is expecting me to do something I'm not... Don't think that feeling will improve, as I have been able to rely on the previous Feature Lead. Until tomorrow because that's when he's incommunicado for a few weeks. Guess there is no learning like being cast into the thick of it.

Trying to tease out what exactly the role is. We've been told that a Feature Lead is a role, which is a fancy way of saying "do more stuff with no additional financial compensation". That part was actually spelled out a few times too, just in case some might think they'd be getting more out of it. No, the rewards are more in the opportunity itself - the chance to build soft skills, talk to more than the bottom of your coffee mug and possibly even make a difference in someone's life (note: someone that is not you). The tasks that I had a good idea about before have been easy to pick up. Funny how it is easier to do something when you know what that something is, but that's never really stopped anyone before. The things I worry about are the personal connections and implied relationships that the previous Feature Lead built up.

Guess I need to get a better feel for how to gauge priorities, who to talk to and when to talk to them. That's the entire role I suppose, so I still have much to learn. What I have been trying to do is to act more as a guide to authority. The pre-Agile culture had rigid hierarchys, so someone who told you what to do generally had authority (responsibility) over (for) you. The ideal Agile culture has a flat hierarchy with people seeking expertise and information directly. Roles like a Feature Lead are there to enable such flow - the Feature Lead needs to help the team connect with the right people or find the right info. They don't provide the information nor act as a proxy for other people. I think, but I'm not sure that, this boils down to the Feature Lead delegating (reflecting?) tasks.

For example, if a team member comes to the Feature Lead with a question about a component, the Feature Lead would suggest talking with a member of the group responsible for that component. The Feature Lead doesn't need to know the information so it isn't useful for the Feature Lead to find it out. The team member needs the information, so they discover it directly. This takes some time initially, but further queries can bypass all the people that aren't involved, making a nice, efficient work flow.

The catch is, the feature lead needs to keep track of what is going on, but at a level that doesn't require detail. That's the balance I'm still seeking. The other task of a Feature Lead is to interact with other teams or people that require status, information or work from the feature team. That's the other part I am unsure of yet. No problems interacting with the people that seek me out, I just worry that there is someone waiting for me to show up and provide information. And of course I don't know who or where they are... but they should work harder to seem me out gosh darn it!

Anyway, enough angst for now. Things are starting and haven't collapsed, so I'm happy. But yet strangely tired...


Here I am, typing away because of something someone else said. That someone being Jamesh and his post on the environment, along with Kimota94's commentary on it. YAPP == Yet Another Post Post. Seriously I have to come up with something vaguely original, even if it is an original description of me plagiarizing someones post topics.

As I commented there, laziness and greed are the source of invention. The environment is becoming one of those topics that is going to drive both factors soon. Climate change will make resources more scarce, and somethings harder to find, both of which properly translate to "expensive". I know I enjoy the simple gadgets and items around my home everyday (indoor plumbing, the refrigerator, central heating, tv, l'ordinateur) and I'm too lazy to do without them, so I'm guessing other people feel that way too. So to keep the things that enable my laziness without spending too much money, I'm going to have to do things that will help the environment. Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

I've commented before on efficiency, and these ideas stem from that. The more efficient one can become, the less impact one will have on the environment. Impacts effect other people and the rising awareness about the environment will make impacts more noticeable. For example, if I didn't want to pay the gas company so much to heat my home, I could put a wood stove in my house and burn wood. Definitely cheaper - I'd be trading physical labor for cash, but I don't think I could do that now. My neighbors would kinda notice all the smoke, chopping and lack of trees around them. The might be suspicious of the pine-scented odor wafting through their now-barren front garden. I don't think they'd stand for it. Plus if everyone on my block did it, I'd be coughing all day and trudging for hours to get to the next nearest stand of trees.

Something like solar panels or biomass fuel would be more desirable. Well-placed solar collectors won't bother the neighbors and they are quiet. No emissions, just nice raw "power", presented as electricity. Imagine also that there is a way to make a device where all your food waste (and possibly liquid waste) goes in and out comes diesel fuel, after a few months. Going even further, water reclamation would be great too. These are things that we here in North America don't consider much because of the abundance of clean water, cheap oil and even cheaper electricity.

Some of these things are big steps, so they will require powerful motivators. But I believe that even today, the things that are good for the environment are good for the pocketbook. So take heart - don't go green, go cheap!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Neat! *click*

Trying to keep the habits up - you know, a paragraph a day keeps the dictionary at bay? Maybe not... Luckily I can count on those who blog to help me find a topic worthy of postage, er posting. First, congrats go out to the venerable Jamesh who hath reached 100 posts in his fine bit-swirling kingdom. No clue why the flowery language, but I'm rolling with it. Nice mix there. Can't complain about his football prediction prowess - far surpass what I am able to attempt in most sports.

Kimota94, of course, had a selection of keyboard sculptings to sample from, so I chose the one that ties with The Man of 100 posts. Guess some gentle observations were passed along that just didn't sit well. I, however, liked the idea so I'm gonna type about it here. The idea was that perhaps one way to help people at work keep up with all the postings going on was to exercise some brevity.

If one's perused this blogdom in the past, one realizes that "brevity" is not an apt adjective at all. Giant pile of bit-litter maybe, but whatever it is, it'ain't small. And that's the way I likes it - cluttered with thoughts and ideas. Maybe there'll be something useful, but mainly it was a good time just causing the confusing pile to come into being. I mean even now you can't say whether I'm fur-it or again-it - being brief that is. Obviously the post is not an example, but I am for it. In fact I'd like to practice it. Just not here...

First, I don't think that shorter posts will help get more people to keep reading the postings. I feel it is a type of habit to compile information by reading several sources continuously. Some may call it "internet addiction" or "news addiction", but like most things there is a useful aspect that can be taken too far. I think that having posts that present some succinct elements will encourage more people to take part, but it won't be the deciding factor.

Writing of the sort needed in a work place needs to be both concise and palatable. Brevity can be achieved by presenting ideas up front, with the clever palatable prose following (remember: this blog is not an example. I'm describing utopia, not bringing you there). This provides a compromise between the voice of the author and the need to get to the point. This duality is needed because some people like to read lots of prose - details, history anecdotes - while others don't want to read, but need the information. Satisfying these two groups would be something I'd like to be able to do. Guess I have to look for ways to practice...

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Agile Emporer of Dune

Had a nice chat with a work colleague today, someone who generally is too busy to be interrupted by the likes of me. Happily today was not one of those days and we were able to converse about what we were doing, books and Agile. Turns out, Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, has written another book in the "Dune" line and this time it's not a prequel. Guess I gotta get ahold of that sometime. However in preparation, my colleague was re-reading some of the older books and decided to start with "God Emperor of Dune", which is probably my favorite book.

I like this book because of the tale spun of the cycles of history - of oppression and bureaucracy and of leadership. That is one of the key themes of the book and I especially like the description of what separates a good leader from a great leader: a heartbeat. The great leader will make a decision in a heartbeat, while a good leader will hesitate. The great leader doesn't hesitate because they know that the decision taken is more important than if it is the correct decision. With the right people reporting to you as the leader, a less-than-perfect decision can be identified and corrected. The people under the great leader can all be trusted to make their own decisions and bring information up to the leader, good or bad. Some leaders will surround themselves with people that will bring "results", but that usually means the bad stuff will be avoided and hiding information is never good.

We both agreed that the principals behind an Agile workplace would seek to produce the great leader, where information is shared and decisions are made rapidly and can be changed easily when it becomes necessary.

One of the things that Agile seems to promote is a recursive pattern - a fractal, self-similar ideal. Each individual should be a great leader, but their underlings may be their email client, web browser and senses. But the feature lead, the product owner, the executive, the customer all these would ideal have a great leader in that position. There may be a chain of reporting, but each link looks like the one on either side. Information would flow up and down the chain. Decisions and compromise would flow as easily as information. What a blissful utopian dream (I gotta be a glass-half full guy).

A couple of things spring to mind - comfort and creating comfort. People, in general, would not feel comfortable to make decisions and operate in the ideal described above. Comfort being the key - they won't be able to perform at their best unless they are comfortable. To help that along, we need to provide a comfortable environment. That means a work place that everyone enjoys, but it also means predictability. We need to make sure that we, as a group, provide enough structure so that things operate in a predictable manner.

Further reflection suggests that such structure can't be imposed, only developed. Meaning that it is a cultural mechanism and the company culture has to be gentle nudged in a way that makes things more Agile while still feeling comfortable.

Well, the thoughts are jumping around a little more now, so I'll take that as an indication that I should stop. If it were possible to type coherently while I slept, I suppose I'd have more blog entries but thousands of commas don't really make for good content. Plus drool is hard to remove from keyboards.

A Typewritten Day

I don't know what it is about today, but I seem to be channeling some sort of typing teacher, or Isaac Asimov or something. I've been hammering out messages, comments posts, blog entries and such all day. Reading and writing various blogs and other ephemeral information sources. I'm lucky that I'm not asleep yet so I can keep the ole blog percentages up.

Anyway, it's one of those things that I've noticed - if I've taken on a lot of work, I get more work done. Sort of "working under pressure", but not quite. I dislike being pressured to a deadline, but I find that a seemingly unbearable workload helps. Guess that implies some sort of deadline or else how is the load defined? Been taking on some new duties within my group at work and I'm trying to figure out what exactly I need to do. I think it involves knowing everything which is good 'cause I like that. The hard part is keeping ahead of the curve because knowing things means talking to various people and attending meetings and such. Those things take time and limit the number of minutes of postings that are possible. This is why I've been in such a typing mood today - I needed to get things done between tasks so I compensated by typing faster instead of outputting less. Not a solution that's recommended for all things (like speaking to people or lunch) but it does seem to work for me.

I found this some of the larger projects I did whilst at school. Despite having to been in the lab for the better part of the day, I could still attend lectures and cram in assignments for other classes, even though 80% of my waking time was occupied by the project course. Also I was staying up later and getting up earlier. I'm hoping I can produce that kind of efficiency in my work without the insane pressure and hours. 'Cause I'm not gonna do that. Nah uh. That's not sustainable and I don't think the kids will appreciate it.

I guess I believe that I need a certain amount of work to keep me properly occupied. Not sure what that level is or what exactly the work should be, but I'm trying this on for size. I think that if I had an appropriately sized development project to work on, that'd be okay too, but I haven't done any real programming for quite some time. I think the closest I've come is some nice Perl scripting, but that's more straight-forward than a serious component. I'm trying to compensate with other things - what some call "soft skills". Developing those would be good and I'm looking for the right way of acquiring more skills. However, like most things, skills are developed with practice hence all the stuff I gotta do. Fun. Gotta revisit this post in a while to see what has happened. Maybe in a month or two.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Keeping the bedding clean

I wrote the other day that I liked the efficiency that comes out of all this environmentalism and that I didn't like the idea of calling everything "green". Kimota94 mentioned overhearing someone abandoning all hope, and that is something I don't like either.

There is always something that can be done, particularly for yourself. Anything can help, and does help, but I also dislike comparing what I'm doing to the impact of another country. I think of it more like "pissing in your own nest". This is a corollary of the "golden rule" (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). If you think that burning coal is going to pollute the air around your house, find a different fuel. We have the means and the sheer wealth. If you don't want people dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by the tonne, reduce your output.

Worrying that America will swamp whatever you do is has a few problems. First, although they aren't signatories to the Kyoto convention, they are working faster at reducing emissions because it provides economic benefits. Secondly, I wouldn't be worried about what the US emits now - I'd worry about what happens when China and India have a new smog-blasting car for every inhabitant. That would a bit more of a problem. If we can't exercise a little more control and reduce what we use here, where we have all this wealth, education and experience, why should expect an up-and-coming economic power to be frugal? Sort of "do as I say, not as I do?" America has never responded well to that - they put their money where their mouth is.

Point is, if we start now we can work on producing technologies and ideas that help reduce emissions for everyone, reducing the cost and increasing the benefit so that when more people want a personal transport (that doesn't spew methane like a bloated water buffalo or NO like a 72 Cadillac) they'll be able to afford a cleaner version than what we use now.

Reducing personal emissions and increasing personal energy efficiency will make your local environment better. By local, I mean the air you breath in your house when you sleep, the smell of local flora and sounds of local fauna. And with that, I'm hoping to sleep to a lovely environment of low-light and gentle odors.


I'm bitter. It's the kind of bitterness that a good skate at the ol' hockey rink would cure, but that's just not gonna happen tomorrow. Turn out has been shallow as of late and so the organizers asked people to confirm their attendance or have the game canceled. Turns out many regulars from work were going to be traveling, including one of our regular goalies. Most of the responses that were copied on the wider mailing list were negative. Not that I can blame people, but it is a day that I look forward to all week.

So I'm bitter about it. And I found out something interesting about my stick. Last game, someone commented that it didn't look like a one-piece composite, but more like a composite shaft with a wooden blade. Turns out, the Sher-wood Momentum stick is a wood/composite hybrid - it has a composite shaft that is stiffened with wood. The blade is a wood core that is jacketed with the composite material. This gives some of the benefits of a one-piece composite with the benefit of a lower price. So that was an interesting tidbit.

Anyway, I'll have to get up nice and early and head to the gym instead - I'll need to work off the bitter energy.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Still here...

Yah, I haven't been keeping up with my posting pace (posting paste? Toothing taste?). And after I bragged about how awesome it was to read that I had a favourable metric on Tammy's blog. But the last couple of weeks have not been the best regarding to "time to write in das blog". So I'm gonna write a little today...

I'm using up all my time commenting on other people's blog entries. Haven't even caught up with Kimota94's... I'm gonna have to leave his alone or else there'll be no sleep for me tonight.

Today has been the first day that I've come close to having some time to add to the interweeb. Had one of those cold/flu things going around - now with actual fever! - which meant a bunch of early nights. Couldn't skip hockey of course, so something else had to go. Plus the ol' computational engine is suffering a bit. I'm suspecting now that I have to re-attach my heat sink as there seems to be some weird spikes in that temperature. Thought I'd be able to do that today, but no dice. Got some good household-type-stuff done (like cleaning), so computer time means "web-smurfing" instead of "general repairs".

Soon... I'll slap up some more stuff. My informal list of things to talk about keeps growing. Gonna have to use some vacation time to knock that down if things keep going this way!