Over the weekend I helped my dad to build a new shed for his garden. The old one was made of wood and had started to rot so he bought a new one, made of metal. Building it was pretty much a case of following the instructions to put all the bits in the right places in the right order.
The instructions were…OK. They were not all that clear in some places, with some careful figuring out needed to make sure we were doing things right. Sometimes we got them wrong and had to backtrack, taking off some pieces so we could put the correct piece on first. I’ve built a fair bit of self-assembly furniture in my time, and this kind of thing often seems to happen there too. I call it ‘the crisis’: that moment when you realise you’ve gone wrong and you’re going to have to undo the last few steps to get back on track.
In the last few years, I’ve started watching Formula One. I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic, but I do try and watch all the qualifying sessions and races on TV, and I find it a fascinating sport to follow. There are a number of people who claim that F1 is boring. I think what they mean when they say this is that there isn’t as much “wheel-to-wheel” action as there is in other types of motorsport, and that it’s not as exciting as other sports they might prefer watching, such as football or tennis. And they’re right. F1 races can become a bit of a procession sometimes, with the fastest car at the front all race and not much overtaking. (The recent Bahrain Grand Prix was a bit of an exception, with the lead changing hands several times, although no-one really doubted that it would be one of the Mercedes cars crossing the finish line first.)
The key to enjoying F1 is to realise that it’s not really a sport. It’s actually a global engineering competition, disguised as a sport.
I’ve read a few time management and productivity books, such as those by David Allen and Mark Forster. And there are a lot more out there I haven’t read, as well as lots of blog posts and other articles. I think these books have a lot of value and useful ideas for so-called “knowledge workers”, but I also think it’s a specific type of knowledge work that they are most useful for, and I’ve never found them to be completely applicable to the work that I do.
Often these books contain the subtle (or not so subtle) message that theirs is the One True Way of managing your time and tasks. It’s easy to get really enthusiastic while reading these books and think that you need to throw out what you’ve been doing and implement the new system to solve all your problems! Continue reading
I’ve always struggled with the noise in typical office environments. It’s conversational noise that’s the problem. If there is any kind of conversation going on within earshot, the part of my brain that deals with language just tunes in to it. I can’t help it, I just have to listen! Of course, that part of my brain is also used for reading and writing documents and code, so it makes it very difficult to get work done. I suspect I suffer from this more than most other people. Every office I have ever worked in was too noisy for me, even the so-called quiet ones. In fact, the quiet ones can be worse. If everyone is talking at once, the individual conversations become part of the general background noise and it’s hard to distinguish each conversation. But in a quiet office where there is one single conversation going on you can hear every word clearly.
I may have a particular problem with this, but I think the problem occurs to some extent for all developers. The effect of noise and interruptions on programmer productivity was covered extensively in the excellent book Peopleware. I’d love it if more companies recognised that developers need quiet time to get their work done, and gave them private offices. But I’ve never seen this in any of the companies I’ve worked for, and I don’t really expect it to start happening any time soon. If anything, the problem’s getting worse, as more and more offices get built or renovated in an open plan style. Continue reading
Bletchley Park was where Britain’s codebreakers, including Alan Turing, worked during World War II to crack the German’s encrypted communications. As well as providing vital intelligence to the allies, they also developed techniques and equipment that helped kickstart the development of computers after the war. The site is now open to the public as a kind of museum. I’d been meaning to go for ages and in September this year a weekend came around where I didn’t have anything else on. This post contains some thoughts on my experiences there and a few tips for visitors.
After entering and buying your ticket you can pick up a multimedia guide, which is a customised iPod Touch inside a rubberised case, with an app that offers various video clips. These clips are supposed to be watched at various points around the grounds. I actually found that the clips didn’t bear much relation to the locations. But the videos were well produced and were very interesting, with a mixture of technical information about the work done at Bletchley Park, personal recollections from people who worked there, background information about the relevance of their work to the war effort, and other information. There is also a map in the app, but it’s not very good, so I bought a guide book for £5 which has a good map on the back. The guide book is also really interesting and full of extra information. Continue reading
I mostly hand write these blog posts initially. I think there was a time when my handwriting was neat, perhaps in school, but not now. From a distance it looks OK; fairly small, consistent in size and mostly in straight lines on plain paper. But up close it’s messy. It’s not properly joined up, although some letters flow into each other a bit. The main problem is letter definition. This deteriorates the faster I try and go. If I try really hard to slow down and pay attention, I can usually get the letters to come out OK. There is some pleasure to be gained in slowing right down and really making an effort, but it’s also very frustrating. Usually I have got a whole load of ideas I’m trying to get down on paper as quickly as possible, and going slowly doesn’t feel right. Continue reading
My last week at work was a bit strange. I got ill on Tuesday so I had the day off. For the rest of the week I felt a bit better, and I had work to get done, so I just worked from home. I didn’t even feel well enough to go into the office on Friday, my last day with the company. I still felt a bit ill over the weekend. It wasn’t until Monday that I really felt alright again. I’d planned to start work on my own exciting projects on Monday morning. But after a week of being stuck inside I was craving fresh air and exercise and didn’t want to spend another day just sat at my desk working. So I decided to go for a walk. Continue reading