Monday, February 27, 2012

musical interlude

Best use of the xylophone in the past decade: Gotye, "Somebody That I Used To Know."

You're welcome. =)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

closing the loop

For years I noticed that when I was stopped at a traffic light, people would pull up their cars to fill in the inches or feet to the car in front of them. I didn't, of course. Instead I often felt nice and superior--I'm good at that--because they were being so impatient. What's the point of moving your car? The light hasn't changed. Silly people.

One day recently, I was at a traffic light and my radio had some static. As usual, I moved the car forward a bit to improve the reception (it's possible if you have a nicer car that you've never encountered this problem and solution), and...


So while I was making up stories about why people were moving their cars while stopped at a traffic light, I was doing the exact same thing, with a perfectly legitimate reason. I wonder if anyone else was making up a story about what I was doing?

We do this all the time. There's no telling why that woman in the security line was so oblivious to how she was slowing everything down. Maybe she's going to help care for her grown daughter who's dying of cancer. Probably not, but that process, of constantly remembering that we've all got our own stuff going on and it's sometimes pretty heavy, is the essence of compassion. On parallel tracks, we learn to see our own suffering, we learn to see other people as suffering, and eventually we realize (in the sense of "to make real") that the connection goes even beyond "they're just like us."

You never know what's really going on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

impermanence, questions

Whoever writes the Sincerely Lost blog has been kicking ass again in that way that makes me wonder why I bother. (It was "Shannon," who went so far as to comment on a couple of my posts under that name, but the blog author is now identified as "Eli", but is obviously the same person. I'm confused, but whatever, it's great writing.)
But then I thought some more: about neighbors who move, friendships that naturally fade, boyfriends you grow out of, even marriages that end. And then I remembered impermanence, and the fact that all relationships are temporary- in the same way that people are temporary. It isn't the commitment that makes a relationship permanent, there isn't anything that makes a relationship permanent, it could end (or begin) at any second.
I've had so many relationships disappear or change, from an early age, that I can't say as I ever much thought of them as permanent. I once spent three years in a very healthy, affectionate dating relationship that worked well for us both, but we acknowledged from the beginning was not going to be a permanent thing: we are both marvelous human beings, but we'd both experienced that certain spark that we knew was missing between us, and we knew we wanted it eventually. We did what Shannon describes:
It's a scary proposition to make and I think it's going to require really being present when I'm with the person and then just letting that be all it is.
It was a very pure relationship, in a way, because we were in it only for that transient time, however long it was. It was explicit that (a) we were seeing each other for only as long as it worked for both of us, and (b) that time would end in the kind-of-forseeable future. Whatever it lacked that we wanted, it also lacked complacency, and we did a pretty good job of paying attention to and appreciating everything we did together. It would end when it ended, and we were there to enjoy each other's company right then, without planning for the future, and knowing that while we'd probably get some warning that the relationship had stopped working for us (and we did, eventually), it could end more or less any time.

Even marriages dissolve, as I've seen with roughly 50% of my friends who have married. Not long ago, J.D. and Hope's marriage ended, with his death.

This brings up a larger point for me, though, which is the hinky stuff about impermanence and our response to it.

Someone once asked Suzuki Roshi what the essence of Buddhism was, and he said, "Everything changes." Buddhist teaching is so multi-faceted that it sometimes feels like many concepts could serve as the "essence," but impermanence might be the best, because it's the beginning of the following chain (Pali terms included, if you want to read more about it):
  1. Everything is impermanent (anicca). Anything that seems permanent, like our family, society, and especially our sense of self, is actually transient and subject to change.
  2. Even though everything is impermanent, we insist on the truth of our perception that it's permanent, thus creating anguish/angst/suffering (dukkha).
  3. Because everything is impermanent, everything is devoid of an independent essence (anatman), because what would happen to that essence as the thing changes?
To illustrate that last point, Buddha used a chariot, but since most of us don't recognize the parts of a chariot, we often use a ball-point pen:
  • If I take the cap off, okay, it's still a pen, right?
  • If I unscrew the top part and leave the bottom, is that still a pen?
  • If I take out the ink cartridge, is that still a pen? Most of us would call it a "cartridge" or "refill," but why isn't it a pen? I can write with it just like I do a pen. But we don't call it a pen. Did something about its essence change?
Buddhist practice is really the process of asking these kinds of questions, but about our experience: our sense of self and our actions and reactions to events and feelings.
  • What am I experiencing right now?
  • What other times have I felt this way?
  • Am I responding to what's happening right now, or am I reacting from my emotional history?
What arises in response to those questions is...often not what we expect.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

burnout culture

Robey makes a good point (as he often does), in response to geek and longtime blogger Jeff Atwood leaving the company he started a few years back:
Atwood's article is excellent, and quotes a couple of other successful tech people with similar experiences. They watched Steve Jobs die, and then probably read his biography, and realized that while he was a driven and brilliant design genius, he was also a dick who had miserable relationships with a lot of the people closest to him. Sure, sure, you can psychoanalyze it all you like, we all grow from causes and conditions, but the keywords remain. "Dick." "Miserable."

This is all a little funny to me since I do spend a fair bit of time working, but I do it because it's fun and engaging, all the more so now that I'm a team lead, where I have the additional incentive of working directly to help my team be happier. This is the first time since 2006 that I've dedicated significant resources to a job: everything has to take a turn, I guess, and right now it's work. I'm never again going to work the way I was at 22 or 23, because jeez, why would I? I worked really hard, but I wasn't working effectively, and I hadn't yet learned that sacrificing your time and health will not actually bring any reward.

If I left work an hour earlier, I could see J for that time sometimes; but that's time when he's in the middle of the End-of-Day Routine, so he's either eating, reading, or involved with Anna somehow. I make a solid effort to be around in the mornings until they leave, in the evenings for the Quelling, and weekends (working around what sometimes seems like endless Zen things). And we only have him half-time, anyway. It seems to be all right, for the moment.

This isn't to say any of us should be doing one specific thing or another; "the right thing" changes over time, anyway. I do insist that we should be aware of the tradeoffs we're making.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

cats of South America

I have more cat photos, in part because we had three cats in the house, but also the Chilean cats are cuter.



cat, window




cemetery cat does not care about you

cemetery cat is subtle

microwave cat

pedestal cat disdains you



calico with succulents

La Sacha, napping

cat outside St. Paul's Anglican

cat, Cerro Alegre

cats on a hot steel roof

cat with car II

These are the two sisters at the house: the big one, Comepoco ("eats little") and the runt, Comenunca ("eats never").


the sisters

Comepoco in repose

Restaurant Hamburg, side view

comfy merchandise


I stalked this kitten along one side of the market. The light was awkward, but it was worth it.





My favorite:

this is not a banana

Friday, February 10, 2012

dogs of South America

I can't sleep! It's a bad thing. But, yesterday I was going through a couple of sets of Chile photos, including the Cats of South America and Dogs of South America sets. There are some truly good and excellent photos in there! I thought I'd share. First, the best of the dogs.

People generally organize themselves around the dogs.

dog in crowd

In winter people put out cardboard for the dogs to lay on. Some of them get particularly luxurious boxes.

dog in winter




I called this guy The Nose, since that's usually all I saw: his main source of information about the street. He would bark and growl when I went by. I left him a treat once, and his owner boarded up the opening.



my favorite place

And my crown jewel:

rough night

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I want to go here.

It's HD, put it up on the big monitor.

Norway from Morten Berg on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

kicking over anthills

I pushed some boundaries at work today. I don't know if I was pissing people off or not, but I was definitely causing a bit of a ruckus.

I was a bit crabby last night, as one of my team members told me about an Important Thing broken at work that really should have been fixed a while ago. I started writing an email last night, then decided to wait until this morning so I could hassle people in person. Good choice, right?

This morning I sent an email to This Guy and his boss (who is also my boss). In some company cultures, this is a kind of sandbagging, where you escalate an issue above someone's head to get their boss to yell at them about it. In the Male Status Game, this ends up as a shaming maneuver that makes someone lose face. I didn't really mean it that way, though. The two of them combined should be able to produce an answer as to why Important Thing was broken, and whether it was going to be fixed. If it wasn't going to be fixed, I needed to know that, so I could implement some kind of workaround.

Unfortunately, I was a bit irritable this morning, and the response of "Important Thing is really high-priority for us, we're working on it right now" didn't really hold water. I call bullshit when you say that something is "high priority," but it's been broken for weeks, there's no estimated time for fixing it, and the entire company is going "Gosh, I guess we gave up on the Important Thing. Too bad it was so incredibly expensive." The magic words at our company are "this is blocking us from getting things done," and that, erm, stimulated some activity. Important Thing got fixed within a couple hours. One of the Ops guys got leaned on to do it, but the situation was really not okay. Every team desperately needs the data that Important Thing provides.

When I put it that way, I think I was just fulfilling one of my key roles in the organization, which is to get irritated and say, "This is needlessly stupid. Can we please fix it now?". If I ruffled feathers unduly, I'm sure I'll hear about it.

I think it says a lot about the difficulties of humans that in the most transparent company I've ever seen, we still need to work on our internal communication.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

work work worky work

I'm settling well into my job, although I hope it settles some more, because holy crap, it's a lot of stuff to keep track of, and even now it's too many meetings. I think I'm doing a good job, though: my boss says so, the team seems happier and more productive, and apparently I have developed some kind of good reputation, since I introduced myself to a VP I'm going to have to negotiate with soon, and he said, "Ah yes. I've heard good things." Like any social human, I'm incredibly curious what everyone else is saying about me.
There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
-- Oscar Wilde
I had a nice 5-10 minutes of zazen this morning before my brain filled up with work stuff. I find the breadth of concerns to be sort of breathtaking: my friend Jess, who decided to join the team a week or so before my promotion was announced, wonders if I'm not trying to do too much. I wonder, too: I'm doing design/architecture, long-term planning, relationships with other parts of the company, continuing to do some hands-on engineering work, and helping the team members grow and work on stuff that's challenging and interesting. A lot of that is at an extra level of intensity right now because we're working our way out of a long-term period of crisis; but by and large, all of that stuff is my job. The only part that's specific to me is the design and architecture aspect, but even if that weren't my background and skillset, those things are what team leads are supposed to do at my company. If the team lead doesn't do them, as happens for various reasons of personnel and habit, someone else does, often unsatisfactorily. If you let the product managers define the team's direction, I think the team quite rightly feels pushed in an artificial way, by an entity who can't directly respond to their everyday concerns (some technical, some not).

All around, I've naturally been thinking a bit more about leadership. I've done it before, in various contexts: I was a stage manager and director in high school, I founded and led an a cappella group in college through its often-troubled first few years. Not really being the popular charismatic type, my role has more often been to decisively say "We're doing this!", and then people will disagree with me and the group will do something else, but I get the conversation started.

At work I'm sometimes startled by what other tech leads are doing with their jobs. One person asked how we maintain the discipline of things like code review and testing, because "it's so easy to fall back into old habits." I had nothing productive to add to that particular moment, because inside I was almost shouting. "You're the team lead. Keeping the team on track is your JOB. That's what LEADING means!". Since it's definitely a Thing[tm], I'm sure there will be an opportunity to bring that up.

Speaking of Things[tm], there's a really interesting situation where we have this guy who is failing at his job. This is too bad because his job is incredibly important, but he didn't realize his job was 100% about building relationships, and in his brief tenure he's managed to take all the default goodwill and send it up in smoke, pre-emptively setting fire to all the bridges everyone was ready to build with him. Everyone at every level has been telling him what he's doing wrong, but I'm going to try to talk to him in a more open-ended way about what he thinks has been happening vs. everyone else's experience of him, and what he can change to make success possible. It's up to him to be able to completely change his approach, and it's an interesting position for me to try and help him in good faith, when the evidence points to a certain flailing inflexibility on his part that doesn't bode well.

My friend Matt is coming to work with us! He's a force of nature, a really excellent culture fit and a great addition: like me, he'll be organizing and directing a team that sorely needs it, but incredibly, I think his job will be harder. I'm excited to work with him again. Even better, as (more or less) peers with a substantial overlap in interests and outlooks.

I wonder if there's any more of the old gang I can get back together...