The second part of the introduction week for my university classes starts tomorrow. We'll be gone for five days, hopefully doing more and else than hardcore drinking. Anyway, I doubt I'll get any Inet access down there, but I am taking my Palm Pilot and a small keyboard in case I need to type any loud thoughts. None will be lost. Over and out.
By almost exclusively digesting and formulating important thoughts with the English language, my native tongue (Danish) have been losing ground - especially in everyday conversations. This is no sudden development, or even a sudden realization of the fact. The state of affairs have been like this for years, but the situation have been deteriorated linearly with the increase in daily hours allocated to reading and writting (in English).
No more, I say. Danish is a rich - occasionally even beautiful - language that deserves better than the frequent replacemencing currently being administrated. I'm now consciously going to fight the urge to use English words and sentences in normal Danish conversation, when there's no explicit reason for doing so. A declaration of war has been officially filed with the my subconsciousness by the Ministry of Native Tongue Preservation (MONTOP).
MONTOP have been granted a veto right on any English word or sentence scheduled for leaving my mouth or fingers. If it's able to come up with an equivalent Danish substitution it will be used instead.
I encourage all my friends to redirect me to the permanent link of this declaration of war whenever they feel I'm sliding back into English when Danish would suffice.
Two hundred fellow students and ten introduction days to sort them through in order to find a few, select potential study buddies. That became apparent to be the mission, as I chose to accept it, turning up for the first day of the first semester at the Copenhagen Business School this morning. A tough job for sure.
In a perfect world you would get to learn all the intricate details about all of them. In the real world I get ten days, before two hundred becomes fourty (as we're seperated in to study teams), to evaluate who I want to spend my time and energy on getting to know better.
This has already cast me into a rigorous screening process with little patience for the nonentities. Why so harsh? I value my time, and I honestly can't be bothered with wasting on it on people I don't find interesting. I think I have something to offer, so I expect a lot in return as well.
That attitude probably already dramaticly cut down on the number of people who're even interested in sharing a learning experience with me - and that's OK. It'll only make my task easier.
Roll on day two!
When ever I wonder why interaction design interests me, I need look no further than at my kid brother (who's seventeen) use the computer. Seeing him strugle with badly designed sites and programs makes me determined to do something to help them, and even a bit angry at the inapt developers responsible.
I've witnessed countless situations, involving said "test subject", where I kept thinking: "What would he had done without my help?" I shudder at the thought of him getting turned off from using this wonderful medium to be creative - as he currently is, doing video editing - because of design failures.
We've certainly come a long way since early days in term of user-friendliness (excuse the cliché), but to think we're there - or even close - would be a grave injustice to people like that brother of mine.
It's funny how major changes in your life often seems to under-state their significance at the time of occurrence. Getting access to change the self-image appears to be a long and bureaucratic process.
I'm wondering where this lag is coming from. Why is it necessary for your subconscious to hold back the appropriate emotions? Which brain institutions are requiring to have their say on the matter, and why are they taking so long?
Take my girlfriend, who left to study in Hong Kong for five months, as an example. I'm just now beginning to realize that she is not coming back anytime soon - a month after she left. I know this because that strange, foreign feeling you can't quite explain have finally emerged. But why now? Why not in two months or just the day she left. Puzzling.
So now I'm pondering when leaving the work force as a full-timer, which I just did today, will kick in, and what kind of feelings and change in self-image it'll bring along when it finally does.
We're a species of pattern creatures.
I've recently finished reading The Psychology of Computer Programming and The Mythical Man-Month. The first celebrating its 30th birth day this year, the second its 25th - meaning that they're both older than me! And yet most of the content feels like it could have been written yesterday. It's truely striking how a profession that has evolved so much in the past couple of decades still haven't changed much at the fundementals.
I strongly recommend reading both of them if you're involved with software development of any kind (but if you're only getting one of them, get the Man-Month). You'll surely be able to relate, and be given amble chance to reflect.
Remember my plea for giving severly messed up specifications a bullet and starting over from scratch? As predicted that didn't happend, and now work have (sorta) started on bringing the mutant patch-work monster to life. We're still just walking around the creature, but he is already howling and growling, threathening to take any enjoyment out of the daily treadmill.
Luckily for me I've been granted a temporary pardon by the powers of education. In six days (that's just three more working days!) I'll get to escape thanks to a excellently timed two-week introduction tour to my new second home (at least mentally) for the next five years.
We'll start out slowly the first week by seeing the school, examining the facilities, and getting told that a higher education is an awesome thing. That's just the appetizer, though. The main course will be served sunday the 26th, where I and 200 other would-be masters of computer science and business will invade the small island of Lolland for five days. Games, booze, and - hopefully - good-spirited people awaits me.
To say I'm looking forward to it would be a great understatement, which is also a little scary. I don't recall ever beeing so excited about something schoollike before. But I guess a three years ride on the Internet development rollercoaster can do funny things to most people.
I'd just like to give a shout out to all the kind people who've been throwing visitors my way, in the short lifetime of my public period of loud thinking: Malthe of Sigurdsson.dk, Mygdal of commonme.org, Paul of Life in the Bus Lane, that Moose of Talking Moose, and Jimx of Preesha. Thanks guys.
Noah Grey is truely gifted. Not only has he developed the great weblog script powering this blog, but he's also an very accomplish photographer. You can enjoy his incredible work on Depth Of Field, his personal gallery, which is being updated at an amazing rate. I'm stunned on a daily basis, and I can't wait 'til he starts sharing his thoughts in words again.
Seeing him update his picture site again prompted me to "register" Greymatter by buying Noah something off his Amazon wishlist (pre-ordred him the upcoming Vespertine album by Björk, if you must know).
My girlfriend of four years went away to tour China and study in Hong Kong for the next five months last week. Guess what? The pizza box tower has already taken over one of the two tables in the kitchen, the fridge is stripped of TV dinners, and I'm all out of milk, juice, and soda.
I am so predictable. And I fear it's only going to get worse. I shutter at the thought of two months down the road.
Hmmm, should probably invite that kid brother of mine to come play Counter-Strike in exchange for doing the dishes. What a wonderful thing that child labor isn't illegal if done within the family. Okay, so his 17, so I guess he knows what he's doing, and considers the trade worthwhile.
Watching news reports on the telly can be a fairly decent way of harvesting information on local and global development. That is when you prefer doing so by being spoon fed while laying on the couch. Something I do enjoy, from time to time. No need in denying that.
The convience isn't free, though. The price is one of frustration - the I-want-to-scream kind - and you're bound to pay it sooner or later. I just did. Big time. This time it was the dreaded TV expert who came to collect.
This guy was a professor of Balkan affairs at the university of Copenhagen. A sixty-something-year-old equipped with a belly to show for it and a large, sprawling beard.
And just like the sterotype you're now imagining, he spoke abnormally slow. Leaving you with the urge to finish his sentences constantly, like you a man who stutters, but of course you couldn't.
That wasn't his worst crime, though. Not by far. This professor was saying nothing - NOTHING - that any 9th grader couldn't have, giving the obsurd leading questions the journalist was forced to come up with. Instead of dishing out rarely known facts on the Balkan conflict or explaining the differences between the parties involved, he just spurred out on lame and trivial observation after another.
However, the pity I felt for myself for having to listen to it was water compared to how sorry I felt reserved for that poor journalist interviewing him. She spend minute after minute scrambling for ways to extract just a single bit of useful information. No such luck. Every attempt failed miserably.
If only TV stations would screen their interview prospects before putting them on the air. So unsuspecting viewers, like myself, wouldn't have to suffer like I just did. I'd vote for any politician that would make it an requirement for broadcasters. That is how much I hurt.
I love discussions. I love to hear different points of view and to contribute my own. What I don't love is people freeriding on interesting discussions when they can't be bothered to give the subject matter enough runs on the internal track to come up with something to add. I'm talking about in the world of the flesh of course, freeriding online isn't harming anyone, but doing it offline is.
The problem occures for me from time to time when someone brings up a story they've read or hear about, without delivering it wrapped in thier own thoughts. Expecting others to do their thinking for them, so maybe they can store it for reuse with different people. Thought theft, I'm telling you. And I'm not paranoid, you know. It's happening. It really is happening. And it pisses me off. (Okay, maybe I am a little paranoid :)).
Say you're three guys siting in a room. One guy brings up a topic, but only by reciting the source. That's it. Then it's up to the other two guys to offer their slice of commentary, kicking the ball around, while the third guy just consumes the opinions. It feels strange and wrong.
I'm not fantasising about always getting clever and original thoughts thrown at me. Just give me something, dammit. Leeching thoughts is lame.
My head hurts. I've been battling with a utter disaster of a requirement specification for a major client all morning. Everything molded together in a steaming pot of incomprehensibility. Wildly varying degrees of details all over, somewhere to the label and placement of a single button, elsewhere to single line feature descriptions. It's bad. Really bad.
It's beyond salvation, but the powers that be are not at all interested in reaching that conclusion. Too much time has been spend already, we need the signature, so work have degenerated into patching and padding insignificant details. Starting over (the only sensible option at this point) is out of the question.
And all along my current position confines me to spectator's box. It's like a rubber cell; you can kick and scream all you like, but it's futile. At the bottom of the hierarchy nobody can hear you scream.
School start is approaching fast, which will require that I buy my first laptop ever. A lot of candidates have been evaluated over the past couple of weeks, including the Sony Vaio, Dell Laptitude, and - surprisingly (for me) - a Apple iBook. That's right, I'm actually considering buying Apple. Me who have been slamming fruitty people for ages. Go figure.
Why, you ask? The new iBooks offers a myriad of reasons: Reasonable price, lots of built-in networking, stunning looks, and of course the fact that OSX is maturing into something you can actually use. All that and of course the chance to try something else for a change. XP might be the second coming, but I'll be running that on both of the desktops at home, so why not give Apple a go. Put down the axe. Seeing beyond Microsoft.
Don't bet the house of me making the switch, though. I'm going to try to score one of the older clam-shaped iBooks from work and have OSX strut its stuff for me. No garanties that I'll find her sexy enough, but she'll sure get a real chance (for the first time ever).
Update: It's pretty hard not to get all excited about the iBook when reading reviews like the one from Macgamer.com. Must keep head straight. Think rational, not get seduced by that powder-snow white beuty.
The magic surrounding knowledge of all kinds is fading - in large parts thanks to the Internet. And a lot of formally trained people are having a hard time dealing with it. Going through a long academic education seems to almost per default impose people with the sense that what they learn is special. That it was more than just the process of gathering knowledge. Bull!
I'm not thrashing education - I just signed up for five years myself - but the believe that the knowledge you obtain through formal studies carries special weight is snobbish and narrow-minded. As soon as you give in to the thinking that the rigid system of full-time teachers, lectures, and cramming is magic, you've lost the ability to take advantage of good knowledge where ever you can find it.
It seems like abandoning the practice of evaluating knowledge on its merits is a required development in character for many students of higher education. Maybe it's because they need to prove to themselves that the five years spend on that mighty fine diploma was worth every second of it. That it earned them the right to disregard learning something new from people of percieved lesser status.
It's foolish, and I pity such people. If I could get one wish fulfilled for my student years, it wouldn't be to get the best grades or learn the highest number of interesting people. It would be not to lose sight of good knowledge where ever I can find it. Regardless of the age, educational level, or job title of the keeper.
As a developer turning complexity into simplicity is a greater rush for me. It involves highly visible thinking and communication as you explain your transformation vision to others. It's applicable to all the diciplines: Writting requirements, designing a user interface or doing code. It feels good, it feels smart. Even when it's small details.
Fortunatly the last few days at work have involved a lot of this, as I've been examining specifications for new features and different uses for our existing stuff. It's been fun to see how bursts of clarity have dominating the procedings. Once you're on a roll, eliminating fat from requirements almost seems like childs play. The good, fun kind.
Besides being fun, it's also very rewarding in the sense that you're helping all the people involved in a given project. The customers get features that are easier to use and cost less. The developers get a cleaner picture of what and how to build them. Everybody wins.
What's simple is true -- sang Jewel on the Spirit.
Many software development managers like to avoid talking details when handing out assignments. It's the perfect defense against responsibility. Escaping the concrete leaves an open window to claim that a given implementation is "all wrong and not at all what we agreed on". It's a powerful and versatile weapon against admitting mistakes, and you can readily expect to be scrambling for ways to parry if you're unprepared and your project is experiencing problems.
The trick is to not to accept ambiguous and vague defined projects, because you will be guaranteed trouble if your personal interpretations of how the work should be done goes out of sync with that of your manager, which it often will - happily sooner rather than later.
However, you need to be more than just determined about not getting set up by slick managers. Perception is paramount. Because when executed by a seasoned practitioner, the art of ambiguous and vague task assignment can easily spellbind the best into believing that all is good, when it's not, and install within you a false sense of security.
Fighting back aggressively is necessary. Early. Your weapon of choice should be the detailed requirements document. Be sure to write it in a language plain enough to fend of attacks of being too techie and unreadable. Force your manager to read it - thoroughly! Getting a sign off on an unread document is worthless.
Closing the window on ambiguity and vagueness in assignments won't happen quickly or without a lot hard work, though. You can be assured that trying to do so will attract heat from managers accustomed to its forgiven breeze.
So pick your battles and stack up on the persuasive arguments. Common sense is on your side, so there will be plenty to choose from.
Need a starting point for learning more about software development requirements? Read Ben Kovitz's excellent Practical Software Requirements.
Want more loud thinking? Check the archives
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