Monday, August 31, 2009

The Passionate Programmer

I just finished reading "The Passionate Programmer" by Chad Fowler (no, not related). I really enjoyed the book. It had a short topic driven style which presented ideas in bite sized chunks. I enjoy this style of book because it is easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time if that is all the time you have. It also keeps you reading with engaging topics and the promise of the conclusion of an idea just a few pages away.

While this book is targeted at people early in their careers and people considering careers in computer science, it also has some nice tidbits for those of us already well ahead in our careers.

One of my favorite passages rewrote the common "teach a man to fish" parable:
For us software developer, Lao Tzu's intent might be equally well served with "Ask for a fish; eat for a day. Ask someone to teach you to fish; eat for a lifetime." Better yet, don't ask to be taught--go learn for yourself.
Well said. Always go learn for yourself. This makes sense in public school and later in life. It is not about what you are taught. It is about what you learn. What you take away is far more important than what was presented. Somehow, I feel that in this age of entitlement, we have lost sight of that.

There is also a section on mindfulness. It resonates with sometime that I have found in my own life. It does not matter how mundane the task, it matters how you perform the task. If you are frustrated at having to enhance the code coverage of the unit tests, you are going to move slowly and dread the process and memory. If you are challenged to increase the coverage of the unit tests in the most efficient way possible, you might actually look forward to the challenge. Try to look forward to the challenge as much as possible, it is a small change, but it makes the process the adventure rather than something to be endured. We all deserve a little more adventure.

Check it out.


Friday, August 7, 2009

He Said Hello...

I have been living in the same neighborhood for almost 10 years now. One of my neighbors has a son that is Autistic. When we first moved in he had a very difficult time with social interaction. Recently he has moved to a facility where they have experts at dealing with his condition and helping them be more successful. He has started to interact a little more naturally.

I have been a little unsure of how to act around him. He has many of the common signs of someone that is very autistic and I am not sure what he likes and what scares him. He is about 6 foot 5 and very strong. One of the things he enjoys doing is helping with the gardening. He likes to weed. After he gets going though, small trees occasionally fall into the category of things that need to be uprooted and moved.

I have always tried to reach out to him when he is around and engage him a little bit in a non-threatening way. I don't try to push into his territory or force him into a situation where he has to respond. About a week or two ago, I was out in front of my house and they were getting back from walking the dogs. I said hello to his mother and said hello to him by name. He actually met my gaze and said hello back. I was completely stunned. This is the first time that I think he has responded to me in such a casual way. He was not prompted with specific verbal instructions to say hello. I have read a little bit since then and I think part of it might have been the fact that I was respectful, want to engage him, and did not put much weight on getting a response. I was saying hello because I valued him and he was comfortable to return the gesture or not without being judged.

He still has some very noticeable physical characteristics and mannerisms. I think many people would judge him for those. He is another example where "Body does not equal mind". He is huge (very tall and thin), imposing, and has darker features. The net out is that he looks kind of brooding and almost furious to me. I don't think he can control this easily. On the inside he is actually really sweet, gentle, and considerate. In 10 years, I have never seen him do anything that was riskier to people than something where he might not have realized that someone outside of his vision might be in the direction he was pulling something. This is a very common occurrence.

It has given me great pleasure to see him slowly improving his ability to communicate with the world and interact. We are gaining a wonderful person in our community.

M. Thank you for saying hello!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Silence in the Cave

I was reading a book about compartmentalizing and organizing information. They mentioned that a Buddhist mantra was much harder to organize than something far more concrete and mundane. They specifically mentioned "Om". Yes, I know, not that big of a deal, but it brought back some memories. Now that I am raising kids, I find myself looking back through the years to see how I perceived things when I was younger. Some of my fondest memories are adventures with my brother and father and Nina. In one particular adventure, we were hunting down cave sites. Have you ever been way deep inside of a cave? Have you ever turned off the lights and just took a moment to breathe? It is a truly amazing experience. I did not quite appreciate it then, being only a few years old. Now, with the constant din of electronics, the background demands of work, clients, and raising children it is hard to get that quiet. Sometimes I find myself going back.

On another adventure, we went scuba diving in Hawaii. This was some of the most amazing water and fish in the world. At one point we were able to swim in the deep blue sea with a pod of whales. Try and put yourself into my shoes. Here I am, a teenager. I am swimming in the ocean miles off shore. The water is pristine and blue. There is no bottom. There is no land. I take a mask and snorkel and hop into the water. I dive down about 30 feet. Looking up, there is just enough substance to the water to get that beautiful shimmery effect like when the sun is just shooting rays down through the clouds. The surface of the water is disappointing, it looks to be only about 5 feet away. A bull whale comes over to decide if I am a threat to the pod. The pod consists of tens of pilot whales from the bull down to pups tucked into their mother's side for help swimming. I cannot tell how many whales there are. The further I look in the distance and the more my eyes adjust, the more whales I am able to see.

The bull approaches. He gets to about 20 feet from me and cruises up putting his eye on level with mine. Let me tell you, you notice when something the size of a small moving truck sidles on up to you to check to see if you are a threat to his kids. Thankfully, I was not. He then surfaced and continued to surface for a while. My impression was that he was confused about why I was only able to hold my breath for a minute or so at a time. After he surfaced, I decided to surface again. That 30 or so feet, that looked like 5, took a while to cover.

I am in the deep blue sea, floating at a near perfect temperature, with little sound, and a huge family of beautiful whales serenely gliding by. When I put myself back into that memory I can feel it all over again.

Where is your cave? Where are your whales? How often do you put yourself back there and remember them? How often do you relive the joy and wonder?

All too frequently, we spend time rehashing things that did not go right, or that we think could have gone better. We need to remember to be human and enjoy that times that make us feel good as well. Those times recharge us and inspire us to greatness.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Does Microsoft Have Another Monopoly?

I was just playing around with a mobile platform. It contained a nice little OS. The OS came with the vendor's browser pre-installed in a premier location. The OS is a bit restricted, you can only legally install applications that have been through a vetting process by the OS vendor. The OS vendor will not allow a browser to be added and sold.

This feels worse than the old days. Back when Microsoft was claiming that IE was a required component and could not be removed. This is the equivalent of saying that IE is a required component and not only can it not be removed, no other browsers are ever allowed to be installed.

Now, if I recall correctly, MSFT is still being pummeled for that move. Now on to the potentially obvious. I am not talking about a new MSFT monopoly in this post. The Vendor is Apple and the device is the iPhone. They reject applications that compete with built in applications including ones provided by the same vendor. Google's Voice application which does shocking things like make SMS messages free and forward phone calls. I figure since the SMS messages have a nice little space carved out in the control packets for the cell phone's signal, making them free actually makes a lot of sense. That does not stop me from paying somethink like $35/month for SMS messages that I barely use.

Given that the platform is completely flexible, and the browser is just another component, what is the reason for not allowing for substitutions? Applications that I right can be made to handle links automatically. Apple could reassign http:// to another application. I found myself thinking about this today when I went to find the web browser and could not. I was looking for FireFox and I blew right past that Safari icon.

Do you think they are going to have to pay for this? In today's economy, you have to out innovate for your business, not restrict. Exclusive deals with exclusive contracts and exclusive content are no longer the rage.


Body Does Not Equal Mind

A couple of days ago, I had a wonderful conversation in downtown Sunnyvale. I was hanging out with my son and had just wrapped up a conversation with a gentleman outside of a coffee shop. As I turned to continue back up the street, I noticed a woman in an electric wheelchair. I am not sure what condition she had, but she was very physically impaired. It appeared that she did not have the use of either leg and had lost the primary use of one of her arms. Now, she happened to be parked sideways, blocking the sidewalk. The last thing that I wanted to do was to add another burden to her by asking her politely to scoot to one side, or just by my presence, cause her to move. Austin and I made a quick foray out into the road to bypass that section of sidewalk.

It turns out that she had noticed me. When I came back onto the sidewalk she was already heading in our direction and made a polite comment about Austin. We turned and stopped to say hi. Now, I have long held that body does not equal mind. What I mean by this is that you cannot tell by a person's body what their mind is like and a damaged or pristine body do not tell you if the mind inside is damaged or pristine.

As one might imagine, this woman was one person that has been dealing with the opposite assumption for most of her life. Many people have written her off because of the fact that her body was not typical. They would look at her and immediately dismiss her as unintelligent purely based on her outward appearance. This is truly a tragedy. Not only have they missed out on a chance to interact with this exceptional individual, they have tended to short change her in the process. It is bad enough that many people are not interested in interacting with her due to her physical issues, people are dismissing her intelligence, put her in classes for the mentally impaired, and would not let her into their clubs and cliques.

On the flip side, this was a great opportunity for me to talk with someone in her condition about some of the things that I was unsure about. For instance, I tend to like offering help and opening doors for people in wheelchairs. I have run into a few occasions where people were offended at the offer. When I offer you help, I am not saying that you are not capable, just that I would like to travel beside you for a few steps or that I am trying to offer you a leg up. I am not trying to take your power or sneer at you in any way.

I believe that she spent more time struggling with being discounted mentally due to her physical situation and/or ignored. People would look at her and automatically assume she was not intelligent. This is a true tragedy. She is a very interesting person.

One story that she alluded to which completely shocked me initially took the form of a simple sentence. She mentioned that before she joined the coast guard, people acted as though she was invisible. Blink. I had not imagined the coast guard as a potential job for her (judging wrongly on physical appearance) and had not imagined that it would make a difference in how people interact with her in her day to day life. I think two factors contributed to the latter. I am sure that she was more confident for her interactions in the coast guard. She also had stickers on her chair that mentioned her affiliations. I am glad that she has found a way out. I told her that she should get a sticker that throws the body does not equal mind disparity in people's faces (preferably in a friendly way). I was thinking along the lines of "My mind is the same as yours". "Stephen Hawking: Nuff Said".

The next time you see someone that is confined to a wheelchair, or possibly their own head, remember: They are a person like me, they have similar desires to me, what would I like if I were in their shoes.

Ironically, the most distracting part of talking with her was the fact that she had experienced so much pain by being marginalized. WE have hurt her. She started out with less than us and WE hurt her. I am sorry for that S. Hopefully WE are sorry as well.

On a mildly related note, I have found that many people are hesitant to accept help. One of my friends, and a wonderful gentleman, Rob Lackey has been in California for several years. Last week was the first time that he was allowed to assist an older person to carry their groceries onto the bus. This simple story is an excellent anecdote for several things. Rob is the kind of person that will offer to assist people carrying their groceries. YAY! Rob is the kind of person that will keep on trying to offer to assist people with their groceries for years in the face of unwarranted rejection of said offers. Yay x 2! Our society has somehow gotten to the point where it is not easy to accept such offers for help. This last point is a bit depressing for me. There was a time where all of our houses were built by a community coming together. Now, if I see you carrying something heavy, it is somehow bad if I help? Why is that? Are we that afraid/insecure/independent that we can no longer work together?

When I want to hold the door open for people at a Starbucks for instance, I have found that offering does not go over well. What I have adapted to do, is walk a little bit faster and effectively cut in front of the other person. Then, when I get to the door, I pull it open, stand aside, and wave them in. Most people are quite surprised and appreciative. Some people still act suspicious. What kind of advantage or malicious intent could inspire someone to open the door for you?

If you see me cutting in front of you, I am either in a desperate hurry, or trying to help you. Judge people by what they want to do or try to do, not by what they look like. Body does not equal mind. Also, please follow Rob's example. If you offer help and are rudely rejected, continue to offer help. Some people may not be interested, some people may have been hurt, some people may feel threatened or slighted. Please offer with good intentions and do not give up.

Please offer and accept help, we can do much more together than we are capable of doing alone.