Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Drive & Motivation

Came across this terrific animation bit on drive, incentives, and motivation. It is hilariously spot-on. If you find yourself on the hiring side of the interview table, you should view this animated presentation first.

Grover Does Dama Dam Mast Qalandar

I don't quite know what to say, except... Grover still rocks my world.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on my Train to Work This Morning

I've been in Japan so long, maybe I'm going native.

I just hopped on the subway this morning, finding a well-positioned seat on the right-hand side of car number 8, and was enjoying a nice article on how to read a balance sheet in my favorite business magazine. I had Audioslave's Cochise on my iPhone, and I was looking forward to finishing the article before getting off at Otemachi. I normally get on at the station where the subway begins, so the seats fill up fast.

The subway lurches forward, and soon I am deep into my magazine. After a stop or two, I look up and notice a woman standing in front of me. All the seats by now are taking, standing-room only. And then I notice that she could be... well, she might be pregnant.

Now, Boy Scout that I am, I was just about ready to jump up and offer my seat. But I hesitated. Yeah, she sort of had that wonderful, baby's-four-months-along-now bulge in her tummy. But was that bulge real, or was I just imagining it for her bulky and loose outfit?

I bit my lip and tried to determine the situation. But it is rude to look to hard at a person in Japan, so I tried to be nonchalant about it. Urgh, couldn't tell. I glanced nervously sideways. The guy sitting next to me was fast asleep. The people sitting on the other side of the car were just staring vacantly forward out the windows. Didn't they notice this pregnant woman standing? Why couldn't any one of them stand and offer their seat, and save me the trouble of making a hard decision?

I continued to discreetly assess this woman. Yeah, she sort of had a large, pear-shaped frame. Could be pregnant. Or was it just the cut of her clothes? Another station comes and goes, and I am still deep in debate. Back Stateside, I would offer my seat without hesitation, and so what if I was wrong and she wasn't pregnant? We'd both laugh it off, and maybe I would get to sit back down and and continue reading.

But this is Japan. Appearances and saving face counts, and I sure would not want to cause this woman any embarrassment for mistaking her to be pregnant when she might only have been just packing a bit of a beer belly. Oh, the predicament! A bead of imaginary sweat rolled down my forehead.

So two more stations pass, no one around me is budging, this woman in still standing solidly right in front of me, and I am still pretending to be engrossed in my magazine. Ah! What a great column on the classic Monty Hall problem on conditional probability! But the situation does not change a bit... another station comes and goes... and I am still struggling at the impasse. Do I stand or continue to politely pretend oblivious ignorance?

Finally, the man sitting next to me gets up and disembarks at the next station. I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that I don't have to make a hideous gaffe (embarrassing for both of us?) now that a seat has opened up. Joy!


But the woman doesn't sit. Nope. Doesn't even make a move towards the empty seat, just huddles up against the door next to me. A whole lot of other people get on the train, and someone else sits down next to me. But Ms. Beer Belly gets off a station later, when I finally see that she is not in the family way, just merely pleasingly pear-shaped.

I am such a wiener.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Swearing to Cope with Pain

Man, it has been a while since I last posted. I wanted to write about all sorts of things. Like successfully installing R for OpenSolaris using packages. Maybe about the uncertain future for OpenSolaris, now that Oracle pwns that. Maybe about coffee (see my byline, I actually haven't written one word about my addiction to the bean). Maybe about a candidate for a side project I've been mulling over, involving human speech parsing. But I've been busy, both professionally and in private life.

However, I found a wonderful article on Scientific American that is just so timely, that I feel compelled to post. Right here, right now.

Been quite busy at work, having been drafted to fight fires on a project that I now understand to be, simply put, a real death march project.

If you're in IT, then you know what I mean...

Crazed release schedules, dictated to us according to the customer's whims. Lack of basic, understandable documentation. Severe lack of a coherent, well-thought architecture. Largely apocryphal comments sprinkled in the code, probably mostly out-of-date and inaccurate. No unit tests, no automated builds. A test team working on a Frankenstein system comprising multiple web services and multiple db's, all the while claiming that a test sprint can be done in 1 hours' time. Argh, and don't even get me started on the misinformed decision to use Seasar2, which itself suffers from extremely poorly written documentation, even in its home language of Japanese.

So I've been suffering from recurring headaches, lately. The cause? Me banging my head on my desk, asking futilely, "Why, o dear lord, why?"

What is this global variable doing here? *wham*
Why is this method duplicated in several objects, but in different, unrelated packages? *wham*
Why are there 2 classes in separate packages but of the same class name that at a functional level are almost, but not quite, completely different from each other? *wham!*
Who the #$%! wrote this code??? *wham!!*
What the #$%! was he thinking??? *wham!!!*
What blockhead decided against unit-testing and automated builds?! *wham!!!!*

When I am coding, I often talk to myself. A lot. So much that the people that sit near me at my traditionally laid out Japanese office mention it. They mention it quite often, actually. And I find that if I am in fire-fighting mode, trying to fix code written (nay, slapped together??) by others, then I find that I begin to swear out loud. A lot.

Hallucinatory soliloquy? Generalized anxiety disorder? Just a tad schizophrenic? Tourette's?

No, none of the above. Not according to the Scientific American article Why the #$%! Do We Swear. No, I think the increase in my swearing out loud is in direct proportion to the amount of stress and frustration I am feeling at that time, and this outward vocalization is really helping me to relieve the pain I am feeling. It's a coping mechanism.

A brief excerpt:

The study, published today in the journal NeuroReport, measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. During the chilly exercise, they could repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer.


How swearing achieves its physical effects is unclear, but the researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. Earlier studies have shown that unlike normal language, which relies on the outer few millimeters in the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives hinge on evolutionarily ancient structures buried deep inside the right half.

One such structure is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons that can trigger a fight-or-flight response in which our heart rate climbs and we become less sensitive to pain. Indeed, the students' heart rates rose when they swore, a fact the researchers say suggests that the amygdala was activated.

So you see, I am just trying to soothe my #$%! pain. I'm just trying to work it on out. Hell yeah, I can feel that dull ache receding...