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Sometimes you just have to show up

Sometimes it’s enough to simply show up. We often get it in our heads that nothing short of perfection is required. That “anything worth doing is worth doing right”.  It is generally true, and I find that I often hesitate to start something I know won’t turn out well. That impulse has saved me more often than it’s hurt me. But the truth is sometimes, all you need to do is punch the clock. Just show up. Maybe something brilliant will happen, may not, but if you don’t show up, nothing will happen.

I have a friend that will show up to just about anything. She’s gotten herself into trouble occasionally, but nothing serious. And her stories are much better than mine.

So get out there tiger. Go show up at something. (note: make sure you are invited)

Hurry up and quit

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to quit. I have been participating in crossfit for about 2 years now and one thing I am finding to be a constant is that I’m always tweaking my body here and there. Sometimes it’s just muscle soreness from doing more work than I have ever done before, sometimes it’s a legitimate injury that is could to take a few days to recover from.  Sometimes it’s a legitimate injury that could takes weeks to recover from.  Muscle soreness is all part of the game, and usually just needs to be worked through. Injury requires time off to heal.

The hard part is knowing the difference.

Life outside the gym is very similar. Sometimes we find ourselves “sore” from the daily grind and what we really need is to push through and get the work done. Other times we are suffering from an “injury” of overwork and what we really need is to take time off to rest and heal.

The hard part is knowing the difference.

As in the gym though, usually the best indicator is our results. If we are grinding day in and day out and don’t have anything to show for it, we might need time off to heal, or at least time to think about how we are tackling the problems in front of us. If we are making slow but steady progress, it may be that we simply need to readjust our expectations of what it means to make progress.

the problem with infinity is that there is a lot of it

1024 x 800 = 819200

819200 is a big number.  Especially if you are only allowed to choose one.  Talk about analysis paralysis.  But in fact most computer users are confronted with this problem on a daily basis.  That number represents the number of pixels available on any modern computer.  Any time you initiate a drag and drop operation on your computer, you are faced with that many potential places to “drop”.  For some tasks this flexibility is necessary:  Modifying pictures in Photoshop.  Drawing that award winning webcomic.

Some tasks however don’t require infinitely flexibility.  You can see this when attempting to drag a file to the wrong place.  Try dragging an image from a website into your calculator.  It’s possible, but meaningless.  That’s because most of those 819200 choices are “wrong”.

There is nothing inherently wrong with building in support for drag and drop in your software, but don’t presume that users will encounter them.  We’ve had drag and drop interfaces commonly available for 20 years, and it’s still a novel approach for most users. I can do some cool things by using drag and drop.  I can quickly take a URL from safari and drop it into a blog post. That’s a nice shortcut that saves me some cutting and pasting, but if it was the only way to create links we wouldn’t have nearly so many of them.

If you write software, don’t presume that users will try any of the drag and drop operations available in your software without prompting.

If you are a user, try dragging some things and dropping them onto other things, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Thinking is Hard, Let’s go shopping

Not only is thinking hard, but it’s actually quite risky.  I’ve adopted a practice of working off-site a couple days a month.  These strategy days provide some great opportunities for me to catch up on strategic thinking.  Taking a few steps away from the details at the office lets me process what has taken place over the last few weeks and set a good short term strategy for the next few weeks.

I’ve come to realize though that in taking these days out of the office I’m actually opening myself up to quite a lot of risk.  When you tell your co-workers that you are going off to think they typically have expectations when you return.  There’s nothing wrong with these expectations.  We should expect great things from our co-workers.  But it’s an interesting side effect of the process, and honestly I think it causes me to stay focused.  I make sure to collect enough articles that relate to our present challenges to provide plenty of fodder for the mind.  I make sure that if the space I’m working in is not working I move.  If the coffee shop is too loud I move to the home office.  If the home office is too solitary and not stimulating I move back to the coffee shop.  Sometimes the walk to and fro is enough to spark the mind.  The key is not to get stuck. If you are stuck, get moving. You don’t want to return empty handed, do you?

What if you come up with an idea so brilliant, when people finally hear all you get is “duh”, or worse “that will never work”.

Not all of the risk is associated with other people.

We may also disappoint ourselves.  Building up a big backlog of things to strategize on may yield nothing more than a vague notion, and a paragraph of illegible scribbles in a moleskine.  It can be hard to acknowledge that you failed to come up with anything tangible and useful after 9 undistracted hours.

These are legitimate risks, but they shouldn’t prevent us from doing the hard work of thinking.  A good balance of thinking and doing yields better results that doing only one or the other.  Too much work without thought ends up with wasted or misdirected effort.  Too much thinking without doing leads to Philosophy Degrees… (sorry, couldn’t avoid that one).

But do make time to think.  You join good company.

Tangents of the week: Math is hard, let’s go shopping.

The Definition of Failure

Software fails 75% of the time. I know that sounds like a big exaggeration but bear with me.

I have recently spent several hours trying to make tethering work on my android phone. Tethering would enable me to share the internet connection my phone already has with an iPad or other wireless device. Sounds like a really cool idea doesn’t it? All these devices have a wifi connection, they should be able to connect to each other and share things like an internet connection… Well you can’t. It doesn’t work. To be fair, it works occasionally, unpredictably and with great difficulty, which is to say, it doesn’t work. Not in any of the ways that matter.

Every time a user attempts to make a piece of software work they have the potential to encounter a failure. A button that doesn’t work as advertised. An operating system that locks up and prevents the software from working, or slows down so badly it prevents you from getting any work done.

I think we have been overly forgiving in categorizing software failures. In the software world we often believe that software is working correctly if it’s behavior matches the documentation. If the software does what the creator intended it to do, then it is successful. I would argue for a more stringent definition of failure. Any time the software fails to perform what the user expects, it has failed.

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