Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Luddite consultant

I have a confession to make. Yes, I make a living supporting technology, introducing organizations to new levels of digital sophistication. But . . . in my heart, I'm a Luddite. My greatest challenge in business is persuading end-users to embrace the changes I bring to their jobs . . . and yet I find that I resist change as much as they do.

For instance:
  • My computers are old, for a techno-geek. I keep them at least two or three years.
  • I finally upgraded my personal installation of Microsoft Office to Office 2003 -- three years after it was released.
  • I finally wrote my first .NET application . . . four years after the technology was released to production. Until then I had continued to use Visual Basic 6 (now quaintly referred to as "classic" VB) which was released ten years ago.
  • As I wrote earlier, I'm still using a five-year-old digital camera, which is starting to get stares of amazement from the late adopters who are sporting cameras half as small with twice the resolution and zoom.
  • My boss, Harry, has repeatedly pushed initiatives to get us to use new software: billing software on our PDAs, personal organization tools, new CRM systems like Commence. On every single initiative, I dragged my feet. (Ok, I was actually right to hate Commence, which we eventually scrapped, but that's another story.)

In general, I am perfectly happy to continue using the tools and technologies I have right now, and anyone pushing something new has to make a strong case to push my hand. To some extent, that is consistent with my conscious IT philosophy of "solve the business problem first, then worry about making it pretty." But it's a trend that I would be embarrassed to admit to my customers.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tired is stupid

I've decided that a mandatory quality of Heaven (if there is indeed a Heaven) is that you never get tired. I can be chugging right along, excited about the prospect of what I'm going to be able to do with a tiny window of free time, and . . . . oof, suddenly I'm too tired to care. I remember Warren Buffett famously said that the best part of being a billionaire was "I only work with people I like." I would add a corollary to that: the best benefit would be that when I'm tired, I get to rest. In the high-flying days of the dot-com boom, there were a number of prominent executives who made sleep a status symbol; rather than bragging about how long they worked or how little sleep they got, they flaunted their clout by making everyone else wait for them while they power-napped. Sounds like the most sensible use of wealth I could imagine.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I have the best doctor

I went for a routine physical today. I am generally healthy and fit, which only makes my wife all the more sure I will die of some tragically undetected cancer. Like all generally healthy people, I try to believe that I have no need of doctors and never will, so going to a doctor when I'm not even sick feels especially superfluous.

Fortunately, I have the best doctor in the whole wide world. How do I know?
  • She spent a lot of time with me. Even with the best of doctors, I have always felt somewhat rushed. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like the doctor was more free with the time than I was.
  • She asked about my whole family. She wasn't just thinking about me in the visit; she was getting context about my wife and kids as well. Never in my whole life did I have a doctor who actually thought beyond the confines of the patient right in front of them.
  • She actually asked me what tests and treatments I wanted to have. I came prepared to do the full spectrum of labwork, have lots of blood drawn, etc. But she actually said, "A healthy guy like you doesn't need any other screening." I mentioned that my cholesterol was borderline two years ago, and she agreed that that would be a good test to run.
  • I actually got test results on the spot. They ran the cholesterol tests right away, and gave me the results within ten minutes. (Compare that with my last doctor, who called me back in a week later for another expensive appointment, just to tell me my cholesterol was borderline.)

Why don't more doctors do this? Is it really that hard?


Monday, November 27, 2006

Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned on the Can

I never set out on a formal career path to get into software or programming. But some part of me thought that it would be cool if I could do the programming on my own web forms, and when I was looking for work I saw a lot of adds for people who knew CGI and Perl. So I bought my first Camel book, and read it in my "free time." I deliberatedly use quotation marks around that term, because by "free time" was limited to about three 10-minute bathroom breaks, and maybe ten minutes before I fell asleep at night.

Still, that added up to about 45 minutes a day of time. Which added up to maybe three working-days of study time a month. After a couple months, I was able to do some programming. I made the first few CGI scripts for the SKS website.

And so it was with Perl . . . and then SQL . . . and then Javascript . . . and then Visual Basic. Simple algorithms, relational algebra, database theory, interface design . . . all were mastered in ten-minute chunks while taking a dump. As my knowledge grew, I got to spend more and more of my working time applying my skills, which accelerated the learning tremendously. But the bulk of my new-technology learning was (and still is) in stolen moments.

Gradualism is a powerful thing. If you can allow yourself to pour your in-between minutes into something -- anything -- it can add up to something significant. That was why I finally quit my Scrabble addiction, and started jotting notes for my blogs on my handheld instead. Faithful in little is indeed faithful in much.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Time-stopping technology

Listen to the advertising for cameras, and it always boils down to two taglines: "Capture the moment. Share the magic." You take pictures (or video, as is much more common now) to preserve a moment in time, and to share that moment with others.

Ever since I was quite young, I always felt a little uneasy about this quest to "capture the moment." I'm not like my son, who usually resists all efforts to photograph him, nor like my grandmother, who actively removed and destroyed all photos of herself when she found them. I think they both, to different degrees, could not stand the self-consciousness induced by seeing themselves. But I feel is a certain futility in the quest. Even as young as ten, I remember seeing all the Kodak ads of smiling grandmothers mooning over photo albums, and thinking, "Is that all you get at the end of life? A big book of pictures? But that's not real."

I am a parent now, and I probably take as many pictures as the next guy. I do not think taking pictures is futile. I have no doubt that I will treasure these pictures the rest of my life. But philosophically, I do question the notion of life as one long effort to "capture moments." We have extended our greed for things into a more subtle form of materialism: a greed for experience. We want more experience, better experience, and we want to capture it, keep it, hold it. Most people believe they will be able to take those memories and experiences with them into the afterlife . . . after all, what's the point of living, if not to accumulate experience? Isn't that what God is doing here? Piling up mountains of Kodak moments, to hold forever in heaven?

We have all seen the zealous docu-moms and docu-dads, videotaping every birth and birthday and milestone. At times we admire them for their dedication to "capturing the moment." Perhaps their kids will appreciate it someday. But when I see such parents spending their lives stooped, walking backwards, and perpetually separated from their children by a viewfinder, I feel a visceral rejection. This is not what life is about. I imagine nobody is videotaping soccer games in heaven. If life is to have meaning, it must have its significance in the moment it is lived, and not only in retrospect. Memory is not the meaning of life.

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