The Straw That Wrote The Camel’s Back

PhotoAfter the vacation, I’ve been thinking over a few things that apply here and, if you’re patient, you’ll get to my point. This is normally fodder for my other blog, but I think it fits here on this site to this readership.

I’ve been a workaholic as far back as I remember. The reasons for this I understand, the effects understandable.

There are people floating around who know aspects of me – the Software Engineer who finds pragmatic solutions where others don’t, the writer whose work is liked by a small audience who reads it in secret and doesn’t share much, the person with a camera who gets labeled a photographer to get discounts – no, I will not do your wedding – the peculiar brother, the hard to understand cousin, the loyal friend, the uncompromising person who has learned to pick his battles, the sound of reason in the conversation and at the same time the frustrating person who isn’t convinced by passion.

In writing about a character writing itself, as well as experiences over the days since my return to Tobago, I began to think of how we write ourselves. And, over the course of the  last few days while encountering people who saw some of my printed photographs, I heard people talking about, ‘my art’, and even say the word, ‘artist’.

‘Art’ and ‘artist’ do not resonate with me. They conjure images of self-congratulating groups of people swilling cheap wine and cheese, of the cliche poet dressed all in black screaming into a microphone with the angst a good parent would have slapped them for – or is it more politically correct to put them in a timeout? Either way, you get the point. I don’t people who call themselves artists in that much regard – I don’t dislike them, I just don’t identify with them and their clique.

I play with things. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It scares some people if you say that, so you learn not to say it, but I play with things. Objects, ideas, code, technology, words, light, whatever. I like to learn, and I like to be off the beaten path – spending a lot of my own time over the years doing just that, to the benefit of employers that never truly appreciated it.

I’m a recovering workaholic. The vacation, the writing, the playing – that shifted my perspective to it’s natural center, and what I found was the way I should have looked at the years of my almost completely unvacationed professional life:

What people call my work is just the collateral damage of me becoming better at things through experimentation. My life is my art, my work – what I leave behind is simply collateral damage of all of that. That stuff is not that important.

And my point here is that we have cultures and pressures from society that do not let us look at things that way, that make us believe that we are what we do. We’re not what we do, we’re what we become by doing.

With that as a focus decades ago, I can’t help wondering what I would be like now. I don’t expect that I would be much different, but knowing that would probably have made life a little more contented when things were not going the way I would have wanted.

You are not what you do, you’re not even what you’ve done. You are what you’re becoming, only partly because of what you do and have done.

Become.

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The Need For A Vacation.

Sunrise, Batteaux Bay, TobagoI took some time off – got out of the new home, got away from the old problems and the old thoughts. There were times that I took some time for myself, and those who know me well will say that it’s actually rare for me to not be alone somewhere, but it’s not quite the same.

There’s a need to be elsewhere, physically, in a completely different environment. Over the decades, I count two vacations where I was able to do that, and this was the second one.

That should strike people as peculiar – I mean, software engineers used to make decent money, a few still do, but over the years it hasn’t always been a matter of having the money as much as the time. It’s also a matter in the United States that has people writing articles, such as , “Why America has Become The No Vacation Nation“.

There have been life changes for me recently with work and living that have allowed me some time to reflect on ways forward – something I worked hard and long for. I did, disappearing and unplugging for the most part away from almost everyone. For 10 days was ‘offline’. This gave me time to think about things, something that I’ll write more about on RealityFragments.com.

The point here is that I had no idea how necessary it was until I was away and elsewhere, apart more than usual, and able to process a lot of things that I had not been able to before.

Over the course of our lives, and the smaller subset of our lives that we call careers, we start on many different paths and sometimes stay on them even when they are no longer necessary. We might do things in certain ways because of old plans, or old circumstances – abandoned, or gone. And while we are doing those things, we completely miss the things that might be hitting us over the heads in our desperate clawing toward a future that a younger version of ourselves once wanted, once needed…

The pressures of life, through our circumstance or even those we create for ourselves, have the capacity to overwhelm us and work against us.

A few days won’t do. Long weekends are meaningless. Over-scheduled insanity is just work in a different guise, that’s not a vacation.

Nature reclaims things.

We all need time and space for a real reflection, and if someone asked me what I regret in my life, it would be that I have been poor about giving myself that time.

Time where I could take my time and plan the picture above. Time to tie a string to a waterproof camera and just throw it in the ocean off a dock for an entire morning. Time to walk around and be surprised by what drops in your lap.

Time.

Maintenance vs. Disposable Culture

Last shots of RX7 before selling.Like some of you, I grew up in what I call a maintenance culture. We took care of what we had because it wasn’t disposable, because we appreciated it, and because we wanted it to last longer. You still find it here and there when you open the hood of a vehicle and see a neatly dressed engine, or when you see a shiny pair of boots. There’s a quiet dignity, though, to the closed engine hood with a clean engine underneath. Most sane people don’t open their hoods to show off. They do it because they feel it needs to be done and they feel better knowing it is done.

I mention all of this because I was chatting with a lawyer not long ago and I summarized some of what we see as a difference between the maintenance culture we grew up in as and the Disposable Culture that now exists.

Cars? Disposable. Shoes? Disposable. Glasses? Disposable. Utensils? Disposable. Computers? Disposable. Telephones? Disposable every time someone comes out with a new phone – status symbols. Everything has been so disposable for so long.

That’s changing, maybe, but not by much, and not for the same reasons.

Reviewed by Bird, Headed for LandfillEntire generations have gone without getting the deposits back on glass bottles – they just threw the plastic bottles away, as if tossing them in a bag or a bin would make them disappear from the Universe. Unfortunately for all of us, the Universe has different priorities and destroying plastic bottles is not one of them – all but the most ignorant see that now.

The same holds true of computers, whose boards house all form of nasty things that don’t belong in a water table.

Some people have recycled for years, sometimes more to claim some moral high ground instead of the Grand Purpose of Giving The Universe a Break.

And still, the Maintenance culture is not returning. It exists still – we still might marvel at the cars in Cuba, maintained with parts made in Cuba, as needed. Or in other parts of the world where simple things such as water still remain a commodity. We take care of things, as a society, until they are items that we cherish.

No one cherishes an old Chromebook. The Chromebook I’m tapping this out on was probably purchased in 2013, and is as unfashionable as last year’s iPhone. Yet it works, even with the recent misadventures of being dropped and stepped on by the author.

But how did this all come to be, anyway? How did we go from not buying new things when the old ones worked just fine, when we maintained things – how did we go from there to  throwing phones away every year?

Cheaper manufacturing is a key to this – we produce a lot more a lot faster, which means that we have more to sell – and marketers build on an odd human instinct to want to have some form of elevated status by having the newest things. Some might say that this is so that they can attract sexual partners, that it has an evolutionary benefit, but having seen some of the children growing up now I’m not certain there is an actual evolutionary benefit to attracting sexual partners so that a new generation of children like some I’ve seen becomes predominant. If you have well behaved children that value people more than things, I encourage you to continue having them if only to even the odds.

What I’m getting at is that a maintenance culture leads to a maintenance society. A disposable culture leads to a disposable society.

We’re definitely disposable these days, it seems.

Beyond The Box

Framed WorldI read a lot about what people have to write about innovation, particularly here in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the larger Caribbean. It’s a global issue, of course, where Silicon Valley faces increased criticism for being divorced from reality. In Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve seen talk of innovation with a prominent and ubiquitous software logo prominent in the background, I’ve heard people talking about the need for innovation.

And I see people doing largely the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, something Albert Einstein once defined as insanity. Arguments are made about how things have changed, how with this new product and this new knowledge unspecified innovation will arise.

It’s an old story told before I started in the software industry, and it will likely continue after I’m long gone. Under the surface, it’s the reinvention of language by marketing departments, much like ‘smart mobs’ was a novelty rebranding of ‘collective intelligence’. Reinventing the same thing is not inventing. 

“We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

– Charlton Ogburn

In the end, one cannot force innovation as one would a bowel movement or you get the same result, hemorrhoids and all.

Beyond The Box.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, ‘thinking outside the box’, or used it, it might be worth knowing the history of the phrase. It’s about being creative with what is available and using it beyond what most others would because they’re limited to a framework – a framework of 9 dots.

We like frameworks. They make things easy for us, but they also create framing – where we do not think beyond the frame, much as we acknowledge anything outside of a frame has nothing to do with a painting or picture. This is false, of course, as what is outside the frame of that art affects how the art is seen – the context within which the art exists, and part of the frame’s job is to make that boundary visible and aesthetically pleasing.

Everything is framed, and framing is a powerful thing because it implicitly frames our expectations. It also leads to what is known as ‘availability’, where if something keeps getting pushed as a solution we reach for that hammer even when we’re dealing with a phillip-head screw.

To think outside the box, we have to think outside the frameworks. To think beyond the frameworks, we have to explore beyond those frameworks and see what’s outside the scope of the issue. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most prodigious innovators, would go outside and stare at the sky, wondering why it was blue and actually figuring it out. Thus the phrase, “blue sky thinking”.

Framing works against innovation in so many ways, and only helps in one: It defines what is inside the frame, and in that way, defines what is outside of it. A shift in focus is needed beyond the frame, and that requires knowledge well outside of that frame. It requires the context. If everyone is reading the same books, seeing the same shows, seeing the same news, it falls to the individual to look at things differently.

This is why I’ve often disagreed with people who say that money needs to be spent on innovation. Moaning for money is a tragic attempt at a solution when someone has what they think is a great idea. If that innovation doesn’t have an audience willing to listen, it simply doesn’t matter.

Beyond that innovative spark, those eureka moments, comes the hard work of making something that makes money, that saves money, or that otherwise contributes value. There’s a tendency to forget the latter because the world is presented to us in dollar signs. The amount of money spent on a problem is a poor indicator on whether a problem will be resolved. We humans, for example, will say that a flooded area had millions of dollars of damage, but that says nothing about how much it affects lives.

In the end, innovation isn’t what you get from following the same paths or playing within frameworks. New paths aren’t created by traveling the same roads, innovative solutions don’t come from someone else’s framework, and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result remains insanity.

Shirts and P10s: Function vs. Form, Import Businesses vs. The Online Tax.

I’ve been spending some time shopping here and there. I went looking for shirts, and found that the ones with designs I liked lacked pockets, and the ones with pockets were not to my liking. I don’t understand the war on pockets of all these imported shirts, particularly when everyone these days has a mobile phone that they could place there instead of near their posterior – rubbing their posterior against their mouth and ear by proxy.

It should be as unattractive as it sounds, shouldn’t it?

This isn’t really be about shirts. I’m certainly not in charge of fashion; I personally admit a fondness for function over form and make no apology. There is a room for pretty in my world, but it has to do more than look pretty.

Another thing I was looking at, and more on topic, is the Huawei P10. I presently have a P10 Lite that, for whatever reason, no one seems to have cases for – a shortcoming of Huawei I’ve found pretty consistent, at least in South-West Trinidad. So, the first month I bought it, I cracked the screen.

Truth be told, I wanted a P10 because Mark Lyndersay keeps showing off his great shots through the Leicos lenses. And now, having cracked the screen of a fairly decent camera that has more than earned it’s keep, I walked into bMobile to see if I could purchase one. I find their pre-paid bundles work best for me, and I don’t really like contracts. Their P10 was available only under a post-paid plan, apparently with a 2 year contract.

I don’t know anyone who walks into bMobile, or Digicel, and says, “Hey! I want a 2 year contract that I won’t take to a lawyer to advise me on!”. I don’t know anyone like that. I do know people who say, “I want to upgrade my phone.”

So I saw one today at an outlet, and I asked the person who was selling it, “Do you have a case for it?”

“No.”

I was about to plunk down the money. I really was. But if you’re not going to support what you’re selling even with a simple case for someone to protect their investment, I’d offer you’re not a shrewd businessperson. And as much as I like Mark and love his photos, this lack of cases is a horrible thing for someone who spends a lot of time off the beaten track. We get back to function and form.

Let’s take a deeper dive.

This should all be simple enough to solve, but in a small consumer base such as that of Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a problem. Foreign exchange is at an increasing premium. Importers haven’t necessarily been putting their best foot forward over the years because when money flowed like oil – excuse me, it still does – but when it flowed through the economy at a higher rate, people bought all sorts of things with their disposable income.

The oil price reduction as well as severe lack of economic diversification over the decades by every administration has lead to sub-optimum disposable income. In plain English, people aren’t spending money because they aren’t getting it.

This means that companies that import goods other than food have these stocks of inventory that they can’t return. They made choices in products that, at least to some, are outright silly. When I drive by and see fluorescent colored plastic home goods, I can’t help but wonder what the person importing was thinking. “Fluorescent pink and green laundry hampers will fly off the shelves!”, said no sane person ever. 

So, the only sane thing to do when you can’t get what you want is to get what you want online through an online tax of 7% that is inconsistent for the very same items imported twice. It’s the new gambling system put in place by the government, a government that is going to send out people to evaluate properties probably as inconsistently as they handle the online tax.

To some, the online tax roulette is worth it if you can find the foreign exchange to play the game. If you need a case for a P10 or P10 Lite, as an example. Or if you want to buy fender flares for your pickup, or if you want to buy shirts with pockets.

To others, what they wear and use is framed by what importers have in their inventory. The illusion of choice is just that, more so in smaller economies.

We don’t think the world is getting better. This is why we’re not sure.

Banksy in Boston: Overview of the NO LOITRIN piece on Essex St in Central Square, CambridgeI came across Max Roser’s (Programme Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford) post on the World Economic Forum through social media, and I didn’t have the time to address some of the issues I saw when I posted it. There is something that had struck me as viscerally wrong about it.

Now I know. In the broad strokes, the data points are cherry picked. When we look at how the world has improved based on static measures, we all should know that yes, the world has gotten better. That’s not why we don’t think it is.  It’s because the measures themselves haven’t improved. I’ll make my points quickly as related to his points.

Poverty

Globally, we have less people starving per capita. There’s no debate there. Where the debate should be is whether this should be a part of the debate. Population growth around the world varies; a nation with lower standards of living tends to have higher population growth while a nation with higher standards of living tends to have lower population growth.

So, if we look at the shell game of poverty, overall the number is decreasing. But is the standard of living? Are people moving forward without people being left behind? Is the number of people we’re leaving behind increasing or decreasing?

We hear more often than not about the ‘erosion of the middle class’. Where did they all go?

These are questions that we want to know the answers to; we know poverty is decreasing, but if our goal is constant improvement, shouldn’t our measure of how we’re doing improve as well? Or are we comparing poverty now with the cave people of a few thousand years ago? No, but metaphorically, the idea of comparing poverty across a few hundred years is a frequent optimistic perspective presented when the masses get a bit disturbed.

Literacy

Just by social media we know more people are attempting to communicate – some literacy is involved, but I daresay that there is some functional illiteracy out there that has snuck past testing that is supposed to demonstrate literacy.

I had a real world example today. A friend of mine’s granddaughter needed a reference on a form since the form she had filled out was outdated. He told me he needed me to sign it. I looked the old form over and told him I didn’t need to sign it, that she already had references on the old form, and all she needed to do was transfer them to the new form. No signatures required.

An hour later, while I was writing this, he stopped by and told me the new form needed my signature. It did not need my signature. I didn’t need to sign anything. Functionally, that’s a form of illiteracy.  Functional literacy was defined by UNESCO in 1960 – 58 years ago – as:

“using these skills in ways that contribute to socio-economic development, to developing the capacity for social awareness and critical reflection as a basis for personal and social change”

Not knowing the difference between putting your contact information on a form or signing a form is one example. So how are we measuring literacy?

By the numbers reported of those that can read by passing certain tests that, if you ever spend time on social networks, you need to question. Nevermind reading comprehension.

So, while the numbers of those that are reported as literate can be shown to have gone up – from students to teachers to administrators to nations, who wants to give worse reports? The incentive for true reporting is simply not there. How many college professors lose their hair dealing with freshmen?

Has functional literacy gone up? With increased bureaucracy over the decades, as well as technology, what is the new literacy? No one really knows. It’s sort of like the difference between pornography and art; we know it when we see it.

Health

Germ theory is the basis of the postulation here – something come up with in the latter half of the 19th century. We’re in the 21st century; we’ve made leaps and bounds since germ theory that have been put into practice – open heart surgery, as an example, has come a long way in the last few decades. Granted, it could not have happened without germ theory, but if we’re comparing how well we’ve done since germ theory a lot of other things should be spoken of.

Yet there is at least the allegation that big pharmaceutical companies overcharge – Brazil even went rogue with HIV medications because of it. Borders between nations become more permeable when there is a noticeable price difference in medications, where the medications flow to places of higher costs. The United States is no different here; people get medications from Mexico and Canada as examples. How much? I’m pretty sure we don’t have the data for it; black markets don’t publish their data.

Access to healthcare? In the U.S. alone, this has been one of the most sharply debated topics in the last decade.

So yes, gene theory has brought us a lot of good, but what have we done since? With an increased population – remember population growth? – partly because of our advances in medicine, I’d think we’d get some better points than just gene theory.

Yet I can see why no one wants to talk about how health insurance has helped people. After all, it was only about a century ago that doctors were paid in livestock. Gene theory, apparently, gave doctors much more.

Freedom

Oh, freedom. How do we define it? Is the person who works three jobs to pay the bills, ‘free’? Fortunately, no solid points were made in this section because it’s all pretty ambiguous. One has to wonder why it’s even in there.

Population

Our population is increasing! Yes, we know that. We’re painfully aware of it, and I am not certain that it’s an indicator of things being better. It could mean that a lot of people in nations with lower standards of living might simply be unable to watch the television that they want because of content distribution rights or lack of internet access.

As I pointed out in the section related to poverty – population growth is a factor that is not spoken of enough. You can check out all manner of statistics in the United Nations World Population Prospects 2017.

Education

We live in an era where there is cultural value placed on academic degrees; they were incentivized by salaries – at least at some point – and now the value of them is publicly questioned. Getting in debt for a college education and then being unable to get a job to repay that debt is a reality in the world. Yet we say that education is increased.

Formal education. But how has formal education changed? Aside from changing and adding some subjects, adding a lot of administration, education itself has not changed – and more than once we’ve seen education standards dropped so that more people pass. We don’t talk about that.

So while more people may suffer a formal education by 2100, can we honestly say that they have been educated better than now? Than 10 years ago? We’re talking about quantities when we should also be dealing in quality.

Why Do We Not Know That The World Is Changed?

We know that the world has changed – in our little pockets of what we read and see in the media, social or otherwise, and the reinforced perspectives we get from them. People share things without reading them, without rigorous thought (education? literacy?).

The world has gotten much better since we were cave dwelling mammals, though there is at least a sense of wonder when I consider that: Did we leave the caves because of the population boom caused by fire? Cave real estate maybe got so expensive that finally – probably a guy named Bill or Steve – said, “screw this, I’ll make my own cave!”. And so to this day, we live in variations of the cave, usually made by someone else. With fire. And cooling.

And yet, how have we really improved? The same country that has children eating tide pods also had an immigrant send an electric car to Mars while at least one person on the Tesla waiting list got upset (if they didn’t, I wonder if they should own one?). We have advances in medicine that should have us discussing contraception, even of the immaculate variety, and technology is giving us sex robots that – fortunately, so far – don’t distribute little humans like sexually transmitted diseases, or like Oprah. Look under your seat! There’s one for you!

We have advanced so far in technology that our education, our literacy and lack of it, has become more pronounced as we reinvent Babel despite people speaking the same language. We have people who are so angry that they’re either a mass shooter or a terrorist (but never both). We have archaic systems of governance that cannot shift as fast as the public can become less accurately informed.

The world has gotten better in some ways, yes, but it has become worse because people who never would have known each other 100 years ago now see each other’s posts quickly, algorithmically, based on what someone in a code cave thought was the best solution… so far.

We really don’t know whether things are getting better or worse. We only know within our own contexts and what we are told, and what we are told we too rarely question because our education systems teach us to accept what we are told rather than challenge it.

Challenge it. Challenge everything.  Things will not get better otherwise, and if people actually challenge things more, people won’t feel the need to write posts about ‘how much better things are’, a Hallmark card from the World Economic Forum to the ailing masses who aren’t seeing the improvements promised, with the dreams of yesteryear either dashed or worse, undreamed.

I, for one, do not wish any carcinogens blown up my posterior, no matter how fancy the pipe.

The Flooding Saga Of Mosquito Creek

Will They Ever Finish The Goodineaux Bridge Repairs?Mosquito Creek, in Southwestern Trinidad, could be a comedy of errors committed by a confederacy of dunces over decades. To locals who have to trek through it daily, it is much the same without the comedy. It has moved from drama to the mundane, a tribute to how things do not get done in Trinidad and Tobago.

And recently, the flooding. In fact, I’m tired of writing about this over the years – the picture is from 2010, which is by no means when this all started – I just happened to have the picture. And the reason I write this? A video that I have been tagged in on Facebook so many times that I tire of responding to it.

The video proffers a solution to flooding on Mosquito Creek that is not expedient, that is flawed in that it doesn’t actually resolve anything other than adding a few man-made reefs to the equation. That it is so popular is a testament, I suppose, to the cultural inertia regarding projects done by any government: Plans cannot be changed.

But plans need to change. The roadway exists between marsh and sea, with the Godineaux river entering the Gulf of Paria. And flooding, dear reader, is about flow rates.

We’ve all experienced a clogged drain – where water enters by faucet faster than it can exit the drain. The sink floods. It’s this level of thinking that has people coming up with things that they think are solutions, but they don’t seem to understand the greater issues involved.

First and foremost, the road is not a natural addition. Use over the decades has compacted soil underneath, which means that water cannot naturally flow between the marsh and the sea. When it does, we call it flooding only because we built an easy road for expediency that has increasingly become more painful to use and maintain.

The right answer is to do an overpass there and allow the water to do what it does: enter and leave the mangrove. Why is this important? Because the Godineaux River cannot always push water out – it’s a clogged drain – and for those of you with a fairly modern sink, you might find under your faucet the overflow. The mangrove to sea path is the natural overflow. This is just basic science applied with common sense, something that the Environmental Management Agency and Ministry of Works and Transport should have on tap through at least one person that is listened to. Lo, this is not the case.

So what happens when we get heavy rains in poorly developed areas (they are) that tries to get out to sea in that path? Blocked by the road, the water has no choice but to go onto the road. Thus, flooding.

Plus, too often do we forget that drainage in Wet Season has to be balanced by water retention during dry season. Streamlining waterways will make for drier soil during dry season, and this turns to dust and dust blows away. Soil erosion by wind, and farmers have less water for their crops.

As Trinidad and Tobago has developed haphazardly, where Town and Country operate at a pace that snails laugh at, people do their own development without thought to the bigger picture. Even with approvals, some suspected to be assisted by a bit of grease to the wheel, you’d think that the EMA and Town and Country would require retention ponds to balanced reclaimed land. One would think.

So while we complain about a major artery of traffic for South West Trinidad, the real problem is much more complex. The solutions are simple.

Sufficient retention ponds along waterways to accommodate flooding. The road on Mosquito Creek Creek should either be rerouted or made into an overpass to let things flow more naturally below the road – not that we’re particularly good at building and maintaining roads in Trinidad and Tobago. And what does this require?

It requires people with common sense and a working knowledge of science to be in the right places, focused on the greater good instead of the personal good or expedient. Ultimately, that seems to be the real failure.

Evolution: Process Trumps All

3D view of Mar03wjc1bOnce upon a time, software was sold on disks that were actually floppy. They were encased in boxes, with user manuals.

Then the disks were no longer floppy, but they were called floppy as a sacrifice to the Gods of Inaccuracy.

Then the Internet came along, and you could buy the boxes over the Internet.

Then you could download the applications over the internet when you purchased them.

And finally, Software as a Service (SaaS) came into being, and all was basically the same only faster (and with significantly worse documentation).
And the people were generally as miserable as they were, and could be disappointed at a faster rate when they found bugs, or when systems went down, or when their internet access was sloppy.

The real difference between competing companies now is how they produce and maintain the software. That’s the process.

Bugs happen. How fast can the bug be fixed, without introducing new ones? That’s the competition. That’s where competing companies actually should be competing, because the faster a company can fix bugs, the faster it can implement things as well.

That boils down to Software Process. And that’s why Agile, Lean, DevOps and so on are so important.

Because nobody is ordering boxes from the back of magazines anymore and getting it in the mail a few weeks later. They want it now.

If you don’t even have a software development plan (SDP) for a project, you’re already behind.

 

 

 

The Long, Dark Tea Time Of The Career

NSB SunrisePeople don’t write about this stuff. I decided I will.

Without going into the details, I left the last job after a resignation, taking it back, and after realizing it was the same thing, resigning more efficiently. It’s not a bad company. It wasn’t good for me.

Let’s leave that where it is.

I had irons in the fire, of course. In a lot of ways I still do. I already had bad headhunters annoying the hell out of me, and some good headhunters with some interesting positions. I was courted by some CEOs and CTOs through LinkedIn.

That was a mistake. There are jobs, and there are careers.

Some things came into play and suddenly I had more breathing space to think about it – freed from the tyranny of income for a period, I could stop. Reflect. Think. Feel. Assess myself, inventory myself, decide what comes next. It’s a luxury in this day and age where salaries don’t allow for the mobility that they once did (and, kids, they did). If you have the luxury, though, you should take it. Taking it I am.

It took me about 3 weeks to forget about the last place I worked – not completely, mind you, but in some ways a job is like a shell – it provides safety once you conform to the inside of it. As I told my last boss at the beginning of 2016, “ultimately the only thing an employee can control is whether or not he or she works at a company.”

After the 3 weeks had passed, I found that I had been doing more creative writing again. I had dusted off my camera and started shooting again. I started reconnecting with people who I  had lost touch with, as one does when one gets into the intellectual toil of more work than play. I recognized myself a bit more every day, like a stranger becoming acquainted with a reflection in the mirror.

A friend at a coffee shop asked, “Why don’t you talk down to people like other software developers do?” I paused. I thought.

“I guess I outgrew that at some point.”

I have. I’ve outgrown a lot of the bad things and have evolved beyond being a Software Engineer, or a Writer, or a Technical Writer, or a Consultant. I transcended technologies some time ago, becoming agnostic after having spent time in the Microsoft corporate code caves and the Open Source code caves. The leadership qualities became more pronounced, my patience for the mistakes of others had grown and the lack of patience for mistakes of others had also grown. I’ve been published, suffered the editing of others and rejoiced at how they helped me grow.

I watched all manner of software process succeed and fail, and understood why. I pick up technologies like some pick up novels but I have become a picky reader. After seeing languages, technologies and architectures wax and wane, you become picky. That cool new technology doesn’t impress me if it does nothing new, and just because you can develop faster in it doesn’t mean that the end product is better. Typically, the faster you can develop in something, the more dependent you are on third parties that don’t care about your project.

I clean up ok.This guy is pretty different than the kid who started off in the late 1980s with the only real aspirations of getting out of a miserable household and being a professional computer programmer. Right now, that guy on the left doesn’t exist. His hair is unkempt, a full scruffy beard across his face, his focus inward. The man who would normally go out of his way to help his friends is suspended in carbonite, a caricature of a guy who shot first. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation. It’s coming to grips with what comes next, figuring out what that guy needs, what that guy wants – who that guy is. The kids aren’t going to understand this, and I imagine people with families at my age are too busy to dedicate some time to thinking about it until their children have not only left the nest but have stopped calling for money.

You see, you’re not supposed to write about all of this. In society, it’s taboo to write about this sort of thing publicly until well after the fact. To do that, you’re supposed to have that success that comes from a magical period like this – but that’s uncertain, fickle and cliche. It lacks originality, though originality is not something that is admired as much as people would want to think in this world – take a read of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World“. It’s harder to live than to read about, like most things.

I have a deadline. The second week of May, 2016, for no good reason other than Cinco de Maya with Tequila seems like a bad time to make life decisions.

Avoiding Complexity In The Software Process

ComplexityOne of the greatest enemies of software is complexity, since it invariably leads to Software Entropy. It increases the cost of producing software. The good news is that we’ve gotten better over the decades at assuring best practices steer away from complexity – but sometimes people who implement the software processes themselves do not understand the why of things and create complexity in the software process itself – and even create new and interesting problems.

A simple thing like code reviews can be made complicated by different disciplines sharing the same space. Let’s say that you have code that uses stored procedures. Clearly, you’ll want a DBA doing the review of the stored procedure(s) and table changes – you might not want to call it a code review, but it is a review of a sort. Would you create a new column on your Agile board to track DBA reviews? I would hope not, if you’re using a decent tracking system. You can expect a DBA to make loud noises about them being so different, but if you take a step back… it’s just another type of review that can stay on the board without adding complexity to the board.

Further, differentiating that from the other reviews almost always assures that the code review and the review of the SQL related code is done separately – and since they will go into Production together, it would make sense that the reviews be synergistic. The Software Engineer and the DBA should review together, not separately, so that there are no assumptions made. The short term ‘gain’ of doing them separately results in a potential loss of quality.

How could it be done? Sure, the DBA needs to know to do the review, but that can be done by assigning two people to the review (a DBA and an Engineer) or creating two linked tickets for the same issue and making sure that the review is done at the same time. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Simplify. It will take a little more time, but it will avoid quality issues – and keep your Agile process more simple.