Not much time today, writing, and other digressions

It might seem like I have nothing to do but write posts, but dear imaginary reader,  but sometimes life intrudes. Since returning from Wyoming I still haven’t unpacked the car and  stored away all camping gear. But what I really missed was a couple of letters from a tax agency disputing returns, not mine, but the ones I do for my mother, so now I get to go deal with bureaucracy for a while. Plus I returned to baking bread, using my favorite approach from Jim Lahey, so now my dough is demanding my attention. And about half a dozen other daily trivia so today will be a light day for writing.

It’s too bad because I have a new batch of posts to look at from a few others. Part of my own exercise is to use ideas from others as a seed for my own explorations. If I just ramble around in my own thoughts, while often pleasant, I also sometimes run dry and find myself rehashing old ground. So it takes an outside stimulus to get a new thread going. This is a pleasant way to pass time as I’ve always found kicking around ideas to be a pleasant distraction.

When I lived in California I could actually go outside and do a lot of physical things, but here in Nebraska the weather permits (at least for my body’s tolerances) only a few months out of the year. I did a lot of bicycling and was unconsciously using it as a kind of meditation, which I realized once I could no longer do it. I’d start my rides with my head full of troubles, mostly related to my job and gradually that would be replaced by other thoughts and eventually almost nothing. My routine training rides followed routes I knew well, so despite heavy traffic, I could largely ride with little attention and thus go into a kind of trance, close to the empty mind.

I also spent most of my free time for about a year training for a triathlon. Now I could barely swim when I started training so swimming had to be my primary focus. Persistence, plus use of lots of data analysis in programs I wrote, kept me on a steady path of progress. So I learned to love swimming (even though I quit immediately after completing the triathlon). The pool was outside and I was training mostly in the winter. Winters while mild in California nonetheless can be quite brisk running outside in a tiny Speedo. But then the pool was skin temperature warm (felt like a bath around the dash through cold air). There was little sound around the pool and the water turned that into white noise. There was a black line on the bottom of the pool which became my only visual input. But the real thing was the breathing, which had to be very regular and completely synced with my other motions. I found the whole process to be like a sensory deprivation tank, I was literally one with the water, the muscular exertion and regular breathing then completely emptying my head. I always emerged from the swim, relaxed and refreshed.

Breathing is of course key to meditation, which I could never master. While bicycling the muscular exertion and synchronized breathing wasn’t as strong an effect as swimming was, but I’m sure it played a role. Undoubtedly there is some explanation of all this, the physiological changes that lengthy and strenuous exercise and deep and regular breathing induces but I haven’t really gone off on that digression. I just know it works.

So, what’s the point of all this? Interestingly I find the writing, esp. frequently, and at length, to have some of that same effect as exercise used to have for me. I do get lost in all this and thus the other worries and distractions slip away. Sometimes I’m amazed at seeing the clock at how long I’ve be writing and rewriting and editing and fact checking a post.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that life goes on and I’ve been neglecting other areas of it. It’s a good thing I’m no longer working or I’d probably be missing deadlines at work (or not doing any of this writing). My last job, the best, actually consisted almost entirely of writing, which might not seem obvious. I was a software architect, a job that didn’t exist in the early days of software business, but has come into existence today, either truly justified, or as it’s the best title a techie can have just as a reward or honor (I think probably only 20% of architects actually do architecture).

Its main qualification is experience (plus the ability to consider lots of variables) because the new programmers haven’t got all the scars us old-timers have and thus simply, we know where most of the landmines are and how to avoid them. So combine youth and up-to-date trade skills with some experience and wisdom and you get a better product, at least it seemed to work that way on my recent projects. So that’s why the actual work product is writing.

Now some architects actually believe UML or other design techniques of classes is “architecture”. Nope, that’s design, to be done by the somewhat more experienced programmers. No, I believe architecture is big picture stuff, but more importantly, trying to find every possible solution and then evaluate them. Programmers usually do the first solution that comes to mind, which is why they’ll often being doing it over and over. Hackathons are the stupidest idea yet in software methodology since that’s not even pretending to bring thinking about solutions. So my work product was paper (well, ePaper) and as I said in another post, I did show my work. My first task was to decompose a large problem into a set of smaller problems, but once I was down to a manageable chunk then I went sideways into solution space. I do actually feel sorry for the programmers who read my documents because, as I said in another post, I did “show my work”, which means 2/3rd of what I said was not the solution I ended up choosing. I did this deliberately because I also don’t believe architects are gods that programmers shouldn’t challenge so I wanted them to see everything I did, including my mistakes or overlooked option, so they catch what I got wrong. The slight problem was my readers didn’t speak much English. Once I learned they would spend hours, as a group, in a conference room, painfully going through material that took me a relatively short time to write (although a lot more time thinking) collectively extracting my meaning and translating into Mandarin so they could discuss it. [Sorry, guys]

Anyway, where did that digression come from? My point is that most of my life I’ve made my living by thinking, by having to learn vast amounts of new material, and by writing, so now in my retirement I’m really just doing the same thing. And that’s why I realized that blogging without any concern for attracting readers was about the same as doing laps in a pool. If anyone does read anything I write, I apologize for all the twists and turns and verbal excess but I’m going to keep on doing it anyway, at least when I have time.

And, dear reader, if you’re really astute you’ll realize this post is longer than I planned simply because I’m stalling getting going on those piddly tasks that I don’t want to do but have no choice but to do.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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One Response to Not much time today, writing, and other digressions

  1. One man’s opinion: it’s too bad more architects don’t do what you did. Understanding the reasoning behind a decision is important. When I was a product manager, I made my documentation people do the same thing – not just what the program *did* but *why* it did things that way. I can’t remember ever getting a single compliment about this, but I’m convinced it was the right approach.

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