Does Not Compute

Compute fail

 

Happy Programmers Day! Good to have one day to focus on the happy bits (yes, pun intended), because as Peter Welch colourfully embraces…“Programming Sucks” (thanks Chris). It’s less of a paean to computing failure and more of a powerful illustration of the black box opacity of it all.

  • Not a single living person knows how everything in your five-year-old MacBook actually works. Why do we tell you to turn it off and on again? Because we don’t have the slightest clue what’s wrong with it.”
  • “The only reason coders’ computers work better than non-coders’ computers is coders know computers are schizophrenic little children with auto-immune diseases and we don’t beat them when they’re bad.”
  • “Trillions of dollars depend on a rickety cobweb of unofficial agreements and ‘good enough for now’ code with comments like ‘TODO: FIX THIS IT’S A REALLY DANGEROUS HACK BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG’ that were written ten years ago.”

The moral of the story really is to not get caught up in goals of perfection because it won’t find a welcome home on any computer. And when stepping into the world of computing, appreciating its imperfections and idiosyncrasies are the first step to being sanely productive.

  • “Imagine joining an engineering team. You’re excited and full of ideas, probably just out of school and a world of clean, beautiful designs, awe-inspiring in their aesthetic unity of purpose, economy, and strength….Every programmer occasionally, when nobody’s home, turns off the lights, pours a glass of scotch, puts on some light German electronica, and opens up a file on their computer… This file is Good Code. It has sensible and consistent names for functions and variables. It’s concise. It doesn’t do anything obviously stupid. It has never had to live in the wild, or answer to a sales team. It does exactly one, mundane, specific thing, and it does it well. It was written by a single person, and never touched by another. It reads like poetry written by someone over thirty. Every programmer starts out writing some perfect little snowflake like this. Then they’re told on Friday they need to have six hundred snowflakes written by Tuesday, so they cheat a bit here and there and maybe copy a few snowflakes and try to stick them together or they have to ask a coworker to work on one who melts it and then all the programmers’ snowflakes get dumped together in some inscrutable shape and somebody leans a Picasso on it because nobody wants to see the cat urine soaking into all your broken snowflakes melting in the light of day. Next week, everybody shovels more snow on it to keep the Picasso from falling over.”

Finally, his lament recalled the Leadership and Management balancing challenge. The “Leader” inside the Programmer strives for the “Good Code”, but the “Manager” is a master of keeping “the Picasso from falling over”.

What’s New versus What Works

Gapingvoid - Innovation and fear

 

Yesterday was a high holiday on the technophile calendar with the latest Apple launch event.  New icons for the altar of the neophiles.

So many articles focus on “innovation” and “embracing failures” is often a theme in those examinations. But innovation for innovation’s sake is not really the objective. What we are really seeking are “positive outcomes” (on a micro, tactical level), and “progress” (on a macro, strategic level). Innovation is just a tool for that progress.

Curiously enough (since he normally weighs in heavily for Leadership over Management), Seth Godin makes a compelling appeal for the importance of Management (ie. averting downside by respecting “what works”) in the face of excessive pandering to new and shiny in his post Neophilia as a form of hiding :

  • “Every once in a while someone will say to me, ‘yeah, sure, I’ve heard that before… what do you have that’s new?’  In contemporary art or movies, it makes perfect sense to be focused on the bleeding edge, on the new idea that’s never been previously contemplated.  But when we’re discussing our goals, our passion and the way we interact with the culture, it seems to me that what works is significantly more important than what’s new. Racing to build your organization around the latest social network tool or graphics-rendering technology permits you to spend a lot of time learning the new system and skiing in the fresh powder of the unproven, but it might just distract you from the difficult work of telling the truth, looking people in the eye and making a difference.  ‘I can’t describe the value we deliver, I’m too busy integrating this new technology into my workflow!’  All too often, the ones who are aggressively seeking the theory of the day don’t have a lot to show for what they did yesterday.”

I definitely confronted this syndrome at Microsoft where senior executives were constantly wanting to hear about everyone’s colourful rain dance rather than the boring mechanics of the success achieved.

Leaders seek what’s new, Managers seek what works. Both together achieve progress.

It’s a Dirty Job But

  

I got it wrong about a lot of things. Not just the testicles on my chin.” – Mike Rowe.

Happy Labor Day Americans. Time to take a day off to toast hard work with a beer and hot dog. To celebrate the good…and the bad. The dirty and difficult bits that, really, makes it ‘labor’.

No better expert on the ‘dirty’ side of work than Mike Rowe, star of “Dirty Jobs”. His TED talk “Learning from dirty jobs” examines the best bits about the worst work, and underscores a premise I have written about repeatedly of embracing the failure of dreams

What would happen if we challenged some of these sacred cows? ‘Follow your passion.’ We’ve been talking about it here for the past six hours. ‘Follow your passion.’ What could possibly be wrong with that? It’s probably the worst advice I ever got. You know…follow your dreams and go broke.”

Rowe’s advice echoes similar words of wisdom I got from my university police chief (where I worked as a security guard to pay for school), “There is no perfect job.” There is always some element that is a trade-off. And part of the reason we get paid money to do the job, is because there are a whole bunch of people who don’t want to do it so badly that they will pay to avoid it.

He talks about a millionaire pig farmer. “He didn’t ‘follow his passion’. He looked where everyone was going and he went the other way.”:

“I talk about some of the other things that I got wrong. Some of the other notions of work that I have just been assuming are sacrosanct. And they’re not. People with dirty jobs are happier than you think. As a group, they’re the happiest people I know.”

People confuse “Lottery Ticket Winner” as a viable career choice. Unfortunately, “lottery ticket winner” is dressed up in the guise of legitimate work with job titles like “pop star”, “model” and “professional athlete.”

Rowe elaborates further in this post “A Fan Asks Mike Rowe For Life Advice… His Response Is Truly Brilliant”:

“Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.”

And the delusion of the “dream partner” can pose all the same problems as seeking the “dream job”…

“Claire doesn’t really want a man. She wants the ‘right’ man…She complains about being alone, even though her rules have more or less guaranteed she’ll stay that way. She has built a wall between herself and her goal. A wall made of conditions and expectations.”

Enjoy your beer for tomorrow we work.

Embracing the Pain

Triathlon pain

 

If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.” – Hugh Macleod

Who are these people? Hundreds in the Triathlon World Championships today torturing their bodies for hours on end.

MSNBC looked at triathlete pain in their piece “It’s true! Triathletes are tougher than the rest of us”. The researchers tested pain tolerance in a laboratory and found triathletes (not surprisingly) exhibited a very high tolerance. But correlation is not causation and whether pain tolerance attracted triathlon running or triathlon running enhanced pain tolerance is undetermined. One thing researchers do know is that fear of pain does intensify that pain (think visit to the dentists).

  • “You push through the pain of racing — which is much different than chronic pain, but it’s pain nonetheless. I thought the more I could deal with chronic pain, that the more I could use that as my tool to become a better athlete. When I realized that, it made it so much easier to deal with my (rheumatoid arthritis). Like, this is just mental toughness training. When you’re doing a race, you’re neck and neck – it boils down to, who can endure the most pain. So the more I can deal with the chronic pain of my disease, the better athlete I’m going to become.”

The piece also shared the anecdote of Angela Durazo who suffered debilitating rheumatoid arthritis (“feels like you’re taking a hot knife and scratching against the bone”). Durazo had to learn to distinguish between ‘useful pain’ (which alerts the athlete to a potential injury so getting one to stop), and ‘distracting pain’ (which can be ‘pushed though’). This distinction is something I am always assessing as a (aging

and more fragile) athlete and as a coach. Some training pain eg. sharp pains indicating tears and ruptures) is very useful indicated lamp to get you to stop before serious problems, while other pain is a vestigial artefact of a body not used to such treatment (eg. stomach pain as your digestive system rebels).

Roaring Twenties

Buzzfeed 8 Mistakes

 

You don’t need haters to face a bit of hate every date. Buzzfeed cites a number of self-imposed “hates” – your degree and your relationship – is its piece “Mistakes you make in the 20s that don’t actually matter” amongst other failures

  1. Getting a degree in something you hate
  2. Waiting to travel
  3. Getting yourself fired
  4. Picking the wrong career
  5. Dropping out of graduate school
  6. Being in a long-term relationship you hate
  7. Ending a friendship
  8. Leaving a job for a relationship (or a relationship for a job)

For each one, Buzzfeed describes…

  • Why it feels like the end of the world”
  • “Why it’s totally fine”

Two other inspired advice must-reads with a healthy dose of failure embracing for twenty-somethings are (a) Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, and (b) the just updated infamous “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person.”

Embrace the Hate

 

Haters gotta hate. And you can hate back. Or you can ignore them. Or you can embrace the hate. Like Honey Maid (above), who made no mistakes in spelling out their message of love for all their detractors, and Spirit Airlines (below), who gave out free frequent flyer miles to customers who raised complaints…

  • The makers of Honey Maid graham crackers have come up with a unique response to anti-gay backlash by some against its commercial featuring two gay dads and their family. They printed out the negative comments and turned them into a piece of art that spells out ‘Love.”
  • “Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines, one of the most complained-about airlines in the industry, is trying to harness that hate (and generate publicity) with a campaign inviting travelers to vent about any airline, including Spirit, in up to 140 characters. ‘We want to change the way people think about air travel and educate them about the Spirit way of traveling," said Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s CEO, in a statement. ‘We’re going to Hug The Haters.’ Each “venter” who participates in Spirit’s Hate Thousand Miles Giveaway will receive 8,000 of the airline’s frequent-flier miles.”

 

Imbracingg Failure

Art of writting

 

You might not want to embrace spelling mistakes for your tattoo, but possible so in other places according to Kevin Roose in his piece “How Spelling Mistakes and Bad E-mail Etiquette Can Help You Get Ahead” He highlights the example of the email respond by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg…

“Spiegel’s e-mail, which he released earlier this week after a Forbes profile characterized the exchange in a way he didn’t appreciate, has been called cocky and arrogant. And it was. But it was also brilliant. By one-upping Zuckerberg’s breezy, informal style in his reply, Spiegel positioned himself as the CEO’s equal. Most people in Spiegel’s position would have conveyed shock and breathless excitement over being approached by someone like Zuckerberg. And I’d bet that Facebook’s subsequent pursuit of Snapchat – the social network offered $3 billion for the app last year, an offer Snapchat refused – is partially related to the fact that Spiegel played hard to get, and dialed down his enthusiasm from the start.”

Mind you, the fact that Zuckerberg was making an overture in the first place indicated that Spiegel had some standing with which to assert his status-levelling familiar tone. I have also witnessed a number of clueless folks try on the matey approach, partially expressed by sloppy writing, in totally inappropriate circumstances with disastrous consequences.

It’s kind of like modern art. Many people look at the apparently random shapes and lines and think their kindergartner could make such a mess. But the authentic and successful modernists are actually first very accomplished traditional artists as well. They know their medium, their tools and their technique. They are in total control of their “messiness” for a productive and creative result.

 

Jackson Pollock

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