25 May 2009

How to stop thinking in code

A while back user TStamper on StackOverflow wrote a question which I've struggled with in the past ;

How do you clear your mind after 8-10 hours per day of coding?

Have you struggled with this, perhaps as a young developer? How did you overcome it? Can anyone offer general advice on winding down after a long programming session?
Now, unless you already know, StackOverflow is a brilliant place for developers to ask and answer questions about programming and related stuff (Joel from Joel on Software was one of the startup guys, a brilliant guy I've had the pleasure to meet at some geeky event in Oslo a few years back). Even the question above was on the edge of that criteria, so that's how hardcore the programming focus is. However, I did write an answer based on years of experience with a brain that never seem to shut down which I'd like to share, because only yesterday I was once again asked this very question, so I need to share ;
I use the last 5 minutes of my day to write myself a debrief note for the next day. This will do three important things;
  1. It takes your mind off the complexities as the debriefing will be a short form of all the things you've worried about, and helps clear the mind of all the what-if things.

  2. If your mind have a long down-settling time, the debrief note is the perfect place to use for a central of "things I forgot about" or should note somewhere. The debrief note becomes a knowledge central for whatever you did that day.

  3. It focuses your mind on the real issues. One thing is to clear the mind, another is to let it keep going, but more focused. So even if your conscious mind is letting go, it's probably a good idea to let your unconscious mind keep churning at the problems, and a good way to help your mind do this is to be slightly futuristic in your notes (thoughts on direction, for example).

Read the rest and fuller response at StackOverflow.

21 May 2009

Weird coincidences

On Sunday me and the family went to Sydney to celebrate 17th of May, Norway's national day. I was looking forward to resupply myself with things I can't buy in the shop, and hopefully catch up with someone else who speaks my freaky native tongue.

We went to Circular Quay to see the parade, and then took the ferry to Manly to get to the Norwegian Seaman's Church where some more festivities would take place, some more fiddle music, a speech or two, and cakes, and waffles, and sausages, and caviar on tube, Lofoten sauce packets, salty liquorice and other assorted funnies and yummies.

At the church we lodged ourselves in an area fit for children, mommy looking after Sam while daddy stood in queue for an hour getting the goods. Getting back to them with said booty, I entered into a conversation between my wife and some other mothers about. All of these women were Aussies with some Norwegian connection, and at the centre of this discussion was a woman who was "a violinist", and a few enquires later and my brain realigning itself that, holy Mustard!, I'm talking with Myee Clohessy (and her daughter Freya), so I said I've seen her before ("yeah, right", I'm sure she thought), pointed out Salut Baroque and the fact that she played in Norwegian Baroque Orchestra with a good friend of mine, Anna Helgadottir (cellist). Then she remembered something and asked if I was a blogger, in which I said yes, and she was reminded of a posting she read of mine, bragging about a performance of her (and Melissa Farrow!!) and the Salut Baroque gang some years ago, and she had to tell Melissa about it. They both, of course, play in the Australian Brandenburger Orchestra of which I'm also a fan.

Talk about weird and wonderful. I joked that I should have gotten her autograph, but the more I think about it, of course I should have gotten it, and I'm beating myself for being stunned by the circumstances! I've seen Myee a few times and love her style (you'll notice her up on stage; she's the bendy-swayie one, in the sexiest meaning of that made-up word), so how often does a guy like me, living down in the Baroque wastelands of Kiama, get to see their idols up close like this?

Exactly, I'm an idiot. I hope only that I get to see Salut Baroque again soon, in either Sydney or Canberra. Incidentally, and the reason I was reminded to write this post, is that they are having a concert on tonight in Canberra and I'm jealous of anyone going and sad that I'm not.

15 May 2009

Spilling a few beans

I think enough time has passed, don't you? I've been hinting to what I'm up to these days, but I've been rather careful about spilling the beans, I guess because, well, it's a brand new adventure and every storyteller should get their story together well before writing it down. I'm keen to talk about this stuff, though, because it is wickedly cool and I'm keen to not only do it, but to talk about it and involve more people in it as well.

As you probably saw from my last post I'm currently in India, and yes, my new employer is an Indian company, but I work from home (in gorgeous Kiama, Australia, 1.5 hours south of Sydney) and travel to India every so often (4-5 times a year as a rough guide). We work over the Internet, including video conferencing and remote controlling and the like, and as such is a new interesting challenge for me to be somewhat isolated from the smiles and sideways nods and the tacit knowledge floating down the hallways of our headquarters in Mumbai. I've got plenty of ideas of how to deal with that, so we'll see how it goes.

My company is Free Systems Technology Labs, a nifty medium-sized IT development company with main offices in Mumbai (from where I'm writing this) and most R&D and development in Bangalore (where I've been the last week), which is a daughter-company of another company mostly known for more hardware orientated stuff, like computer building, server hosting and various gadgets, but they only have a number of software outlets as well. I'll be working with anything from planning to execution, and mostly in the domain of Topic Maps. Yes, the very thing I've been talking about for the last 9 years is now going to be my main concern as opposed to secondary or third (or some periods not at all) at the whims of other jobs, and I can't even begin to tell you how excited the prospect of that is to me; I believe in the ideals and practice of Topic Maps so strongly, and it's going to be good for my soul to pour it into something as cool as what we're going to do. (More on that later) The guys here also happen to share many of my own ideals (open-source, development methods, goals, community and societal building, and so much more), and they've been spoiling me. I'll miss the tea, that's for sure.

I became part of this through a weird mix of happenstance, but mostly because the people involved here have been, put simply, a fantastic bunch, in terms of technical brilliance, sincerity and honesty, and in convincing me that I should join (they obviously think I'm good for something :). I've been with the company now almost three months where the first two months are more like a warm-up, but it's been a very good ride so far.

But I need to talk about something that's been on my mind ever since they got in touch with me last year, and that's prejudice. The world is full of it, and I entered this adventure with a slight degree of scepticism. No, not the bad kind, but a certain carefulness, because, you know, they're Indians, and Indians got their mouth full of rice, and you're not getting any! (A joke I got from an Indian friend, so that makes it alright, yeah? :) Not only did they have to convince me, but also my wife. "Honey, how about I drop my great-paying safe cushy job in one of the richest countries in the world, and rather work for strangers from a strange land full of poverty and strong smells and interesting hairdoos, and do it over internet?" Yeah, she was keen, as you can imagine.

You can't work for Indians! They are supposed to work for us!

Sure. But they kept talking with me, flew me to Belgium (they own half of a company there) and were not only completely honest with me but simply blew me away with their knowledge, seriousness, and most importantly their friendliness and openness. Me and the wife thought long and hard about it (probably longer and harder than my company wanted me to :), and here we are.

Everything I knew about India was either heavily adjusted, or simply wrong, but I've seriously enjoyed being corrected. I've embraced everything that's been thrown at me, including very hot food, weird drinks, amazingly crazy traffic and the sweltering heat, the chaos, the smells, the meetings and the way they interact, the attitudes and the values. I think the tagline "Incredible India" is truer than they think.

Ok, that's enough for a first intro, now I have to get to bed. I'm flying home tomorrow and I'm looking forward to seeing the wife and kids again (Lilje just won an award for her art at school, so I'm mighty proud as well), and we'll be spending the weekend together, and on sunday celebrate Norways national day in Sydney.

And then, a little bit later, I'll tell you about the wickedly cool stuff we're going to do with Topic Maps.

9 May 2009

Where in the world is Alexander?

Short answer; Bangalore, India.

Longer answer; my new employer which I started with a couple of months back is an Indian company with strong ties to back-end systems and support, hardware manufacture and design, and software services. I'll tell more as things progress, and I'll probably talk a lot more about how they plan to use Topic Maps to solve some really crazy and hard problems. But before I do those kind of detailed stuff, I wanted to just quickly show you this picture which pretty much summarises my first impression of this crazy, lively, contrasting, weird, interesting place, and if you can't read the sign, it says "Follow traffic rules." I realise that in India, if you ask kindly, they just might do what you ask, but riding as a passenger in a car through this traffic was, err, an experience I won't forget anytime soon. However, it's interesting that in a language such as my own (English, or Norwegian, or Swedish, or Danish) we base our expression mostly on words alone, while in India the reason traffic works is that they've got such a strong foothold in semiotics that makes it work. A honk here, two honks there as we pass a car, a blink of our beam lights racing past a "moto" (small scooter that's kinda rebuilt as a tiny car) ... I still have much to learn about this language. The cool thing is that it's global; even I can do it. Except I would never drive here. Never. Ever.

Anyway, I'm in India to train staff and meet and plan with them in all things black magic and drink their excellent Indian tea and eat their amazing food, and generally get a feel for the country, the culture, and most importantly, the people I'm working with, which so far has turned out to be a fantastic bunch. I'm here for another week or so, and I'll suss out the details and let you know all about it in due time. Until then, there's a chapati drenched in yummy chutney with my name on it. India is, truly, an amazing place.

P.S. Hey Barta, where can I get my sweaty hands on your TM as a filesystem? Would love a play with it right about now. Oh, and that near NLP query stuff you mentioned that one time in the back-alley while drinking gin and discussing the meaning of wife. Or life. Or whatever.