Friday, August 24, 2007

In The Zone

You know what I'm talking about.  Geeks have it.  Authors have it.  Athletes have it.  Psychologists have names for it.  "Flow".  "The Zone."  That time when it's like your entire existence is dedicated to nothing but that one thing, you discover focus like you never knew you had, and time just sort of dissolves around you.  One of the best ways I ever heard it described was, "When you're doing it, time stops."  If you've ever had the feeling, you know what I'm talking about.  It's awesome.

As a geek, what's yours?  How do you know when you're in it, and what do you do about it?

Part of the fun is having two machines going at once. I love it when I realize that I'm typing on two different computers, near simultaneously.

I bring my laptop with me, constantly.  While in meetings, I hack. I listen, and I contribute, but I hack.  Yesterday I did it for an hour and a half while sitting across from the president of the company.  He knows there's a launch coming up.  Between my desk and that meeting, I found myself typing as I walked.  I was curious if you could do that.  It's not easy.  (A coworker who read this said "It's easier to just run back and forth between your meeting," to which I say, "Running with the laptop implies closing it, which means on Windows it has to suspend / restart, which takes too long for me." :))

A good way to tell I'm in the zone is when people come to ask me a question, I can see it in their eyes that they can see it in mine, they'd best ask their question quick and leave.

You ever have that thing where you realize that you're no longer consciously sending signals to your fingers to type certain words, but they're just sort of doing the right thing on their own?  Love that.  As soon as you realize you're doing it, you normally cramp up.  But at periods it's great.  I love doing that to people who come into my office, I turn from the monitor and look at them, without ever stopping the typing.  They pause politely like they're waiting and I say, "Yes?  What's up?" and keep typing as long as I can.

During launch weeks I've been known to dream in code.  That's quite a treat.

And then, back at my desk, there's the music.  I have my playlist up.  I call it "Heavy."  Right now it's play "Dragula" by Rob Zombie, but it could just as easily be playing anything from Evanescence, Nirvana, Saliva, Drowning get the idea. The real pounding stuff.  Headphones on, volume up just enough where it drowns out everything around me but not so loud I'm blowing my ear drums.

And then there's the rocking.  I can always tell when I'm in my own personal zone because I sort of rock back and forth while I think/work.  It goes back a long time ago to a college professor, Lee Becker, who made a passing comment in class when he'd asked us to work out some code in our heads.  He said, "I found it helps if you rock back and forth a bit."  He's right.

Well, put on the "heavy" playlist and that rocking back and forth becomes full-force, full-body, how-can-I-even-read-the-screen, keep-your-hands-on-the-keyboard-and-stop-playing-air-drums, oh-my-god-he's-going-to-break-something spasms, for lack of a more descriptive phrase :).  This is something I only do in my corner cube (I wonder what the guy across from me thinks?) and you can tell directly how involved I am in the code I'm writing by how wildly the rest of my body is moving. 

I actually quite enjoy it. It's like taking that infinite source of energy we all discover in that zone, distilling down into two parts -- the mental stuff goes into the code, and the rest turns kinetic and pours out through the rest of your body. 

I also realize what it is, for me, all of those things.  It's all ways to rule out everything between myself and my code.  The headphones rule out sound distractions.  The body rocking is an outlet for energy but it's also "I've turned off that part of my brain that cares what I look like".  Taking the laptop to meetings sayings "This is still my time.  You can only have the minimum amount of my attention you need, and I decide how much that is.  I have no obligations to you people, only to myself and to my project."  Even typing while walking says "Get out of my way, I'm not looking at you."

It's like a new universe comes into existence, and that universe consists of my brain, and my software.  I climb inside, and I'll come out when I'm done, thank you very much.   I may remember to eat.

This post brought to you during a pause when one of my coworkers confirms that he can build up the first phase of my project, and before I begin the second.  Back into the depths I go.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Curiosity Killed The Geek

So this morning I wander over to the big building next door to buy my Diet Pepsi.  I remember that I have a check to deposit, so I wander to the far end of the long minimall-esque building to the ATM.  I have no pen with which to sign, but I see that there's actually a bank pen at this one (the kind tethered to the desk) as well as what looks like a broken pen that someone left behind.  Well, the bank pen completely does not work, but luckily the pen in two pieces appears to work just fine.  It's actually quite a nice pen, very heavy.

Do you take the pen, or leave it for the next person?

A truly boring question indeed!  But wait, there's more.  I realized that the pen was, in fact, a USB stick.  That's why it's so heavy, and so easily sitting in two pieces.

Now what?

If you leave it, then whoever lost it may in fact be racing back over here right now to reclaim it.  That would be a good thing.  Leave it. 

Of course, if you leave it, chances are that the next guy to come along will go through the same question and might just as well take it.  Are you more honest than your fellow man?

You could take it, convincing yourself that by plugging it in you might find the person's contact information and thus let him know that he lost it.

Of course, that might just as well spring a virus on your company network.  Want to have some fun, walk up to your already harried and overworked sysadmin and say, "Hey, I found this random USB stick outside and I booted it on the network, is that bad?"

And besides, you know perfectly well that if you find a random piece of digital storage lying around, you're going to go snooping and see if there's anything good on there. 

I left it, telling myself that I'll go back over lunch and if it's still there, I'll bring it back to my office and see if there's contact information on it.  That location is not very busy in the breakfast hours.

What would you have done?

Update:  Went back over lunch, pen is gone.  Whether the original owner came to claim it, or someone else swiped it, I'll never know. 

Friday, August 17, 2007

TripAdvisor Buying Facebook Apps....Or Are They?

Having once worked there, naturally the headline that TripAdvisor was now responsible for the "Biggest Facebook app acquisition yet" caught my eye.  Rumor has it that they're buying mapping application "Where I've Been" for three million dollars.  TripAdvisor has their own similar application "Cities I've Visited".

My sources inside TA don't seem excited, however.  I quote:  "Dunno. Whatever.  Rumor.  No gossip in the halls."

I'm just sayin.  Seems very buzzworthy on the outside, and yet not even worth a mention to the troops on the inside.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Speaking In Public

I'm not afraid to speak in public.  I actually quite enjoy it.  I might suck at it, but no one's ever come up and told me that.  In college I used to travel down to Washington DC with a group of students every year to present project work, and as part of the prep we formed a group that would sit in the audience while other students gave presentations, then take notes on how they did and hand them back in anonymously.  "Take your hands out of your pockets", "Stop looking at your notes", "Make eye contact more", that sort of thing.  "Stop saying Um."  The largest group I've done was for a Giga Research conference in San Diego a few years back, where I think I had around 200 people in the room.  Not huge by something like JavaOne standards, but not too shabby.

Recently when I was laid off and working with an outsourcing office, I took an MBTI test that came up "introvert."  The rep I was working with said, "That surprises me, based on what I've seen I would have thought extrovert for you."  I said, "I'm sure you did, but I can tell you why.  The only time you've ever communicated with me is when I'm the one doing all the talking, and I'm talking about myself. I have your complete attention, and I'm entirely confident in what I'm telling you.  If you stuck me randomly in a crowd at a cocktail party where nobody knew me or cared what I had to say, you'd see a completely different person."

That's what it's like for me at presentations.  Assuming that most of the people in the room actually care about what's being presented (remember my post on two kinds of demos?), I'm in my element.  You'll have to pull me away from the podium when my time is up.  Sure, I realize that there will always be a percentage of people in the room not paying attention, but as long as they're not the majority and I don't feel like I'm talking to the wall, I'm good.  I think I even wrote that in my earlier post about finding the people in the audience that are listening to you, and devoting your attention to them instead of wishing the guy in the front row would put away his Blackberry.

The linked article covers a wide range of presentation subjects, including all of the above (know your audience and don't worry about it), as well as details about how to structure your presentation, font size, graphics, and just about every little detail you can imagine.  Good stuff.  Now I just need an excuse to do more presentations!

P.S. - I'm like that in non-technical situations too, if you get me talking on a subject I'm passionate about :).


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