Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It Still Doesn't Make Ten Goals Acceptable

Jason had the gall to ask me on Monday why I keep supporting a team when they have been consistently bad for a number of years. It's a fair question, kind of, and one with two possible interpretations. First is why I don't support a different more successful team, second is why I keep watching football if it's only going to bring disappointment. If you would like to read an enjoyable treatise on the topic, I recommend Fever Pitch. If not, read on.

The first interpretation can be answered with a simple "Eff you buddy, that's why. Bombers rule!" then hoping there's a fellow fan around to chest bump. The second one is a bit more interesting. I could just not watch the games and avoid the inevitable disappointment. But I don't and here's one of the reasons why: closure.

When you go to primary school you are working towards the end of each year and ultimately the end of grade six. After that it's each year of high school until grade twelve, then each subject at university, then your graduation ceremony. Every year or less you get a nice portion of your life closed off nicely, often with a certificate, score or holiday to celebrate the fact. This feeling of closure entitlement is reinforced by every book you read, every movie you watch, it's something that people generally take great comfort in.

Work doesn't happen like that. Sure, the project gets delivered but it's not finished. There's those outstanding defects, the support contract, all those change request documents to make sure you get paid for the work you've already done. Even if you get moved onto a different project the new guy will need to know how something works or it's just easier for you to deal with something than explain it to the support team. It's only when you change jobs that you get any true sense of closure, and unless you have a regimented career plan you don't know when you're going to leave a job until quite close to your final day.

A sports league is custom built to provide you with regular doses of closure. To start with there's the season story that you get to follow afresh at every year with a promise that 22 to 26 weeks later it will be over with a result, even if you have to accept that your team's result was to fail dismally. Then every week you get to see a match unfold, a little drama that is not going to have loose threads and unfinished business at the end of it. You can analyse it and complain about it safe in the knowledge that there is no 'one more little thing', no 'could you find that email?' waiting to come out and bite you. Just a simple, undeniable finish and the six number epilogue.

COL 18.12.120 def. ESS 8.7.55

Damn. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pew Pews and Distractor Mice

I was talking to Jonathan the other day about distractions. Not originally, but that's how it turned out. I guess we both had work to do. Anyway two main forms came up: pew pew moments (my term) and distractor mouse mode (Edit: a term coined by Havi Brooks).

Pew pew moments are my most common form of distraction. You get back from lunch or a meeting and sit down in front of your computer with a specific task to do. Okay, you tell yourself it's time to focus and get this done. Focus. Like a laser. Man, lasers are cool. Each thought takes longer to arrive and is separated by a period of absolute mental tranquility.
"Pew! Pew!" You are startled from your reverie by some idiot making laser sound effects. A stern look left and right soon reveals that you are in fact the culprit, and it's been five minutes since you last touched the keyboard. Another look around, this one guilty, and you stare at your keyboard trying to remember what you were focused on. Focused. Like a laser. Man, lasers are cool.

Distractor mouse mode is a much more frantic means to the same confused end. Consider the process (taken verbatim from Jonathan's introduction to the whole conversation):
  1. I've just finished an important task. I wonder what I have to do next?
  2. I should look at my todo lists, they are pretty thorough
  3. But they are on my laptop, I should really have a way of getting them onto my mac usefully too
  4. I should use Remember the Milk, then I could get it onto my phone
  5. But my phone doesn't support RTM. I should really get an Android phone
  6. Hmm, Nexus One or HTC Desire read read read
  7. I should wait until I get paid again before I buy a new phone
  8. I've been waiting for that Kanex XD thing for a while, I wonder if it's still shipping in April
  9. Hmm, I see they've stopped saying April on their web page. Hmm.
  10. Maybe there's some gossip on twitter
  11. Ahh, no! #qanda trending. Run away
  12. What am I supposed to be doing?
In distractor mouse mode the cursor darts about the screen clicking on interesting links on its own, a potent force of distraction over which you exert no control. It jams extra trolleys on your train of thought and makes sure each one is fully explored.

Pew pew moments tend to come more from upcoming tasks which are simple but boring where the main barrier is summoning the motivation to get it done. Distractor mouse mode kicks in when there are an overwhelming number of upcoming tasks and your brain starts jumping at every little thing like it is time critical. Both are forms of subconscious procrastination, unlike the conscious "I'll do that in the next ad break" forms, and are all the more dangerous for not being deliberate. With conscious procrastination you can refuse to listen to your own excuses and just do the task, with subconscious procrastination extended periods of time can pass before you even realise that you're not doing what you should be, let alone do anything about it.

I have no advice on how to avoid these pitfalls, otherwise I wouldn't spend so much time imitating an X-Wing at work. There must be methods for recognising when you have fallen into one of these traps and getting back on track, but if I look for the answer on Wikipedia I will still be there in two hours reading up on how Gilgamesh discovered a technique for using black body radiation to measure the specific gravity of pangolins.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Impurity of Purpose

I've spent the last week working out at the Technopark, which is basically an IT oriented industrial park out in Goodwood. It has, when you walk around between the buildings, the same feel as airports, the deep suburbs and holiday resorts. It might seem like a strange group to bring together but they all share one common theme: they exist to cater to a single aspect of life, contrary to the massively parallel way most people actually live.

While an office building in the city exists for a single purpose, on the same block are cafes, camera shops and boutiques, so when you step out of the office building you are surrounded by people who are doing a thousand different things. I find it comforting to be able to see people doing different things, especially when I need a break. I spent a week in a holiday resort when I was in Singapore and by the end of the week I spent half an hour wandering around the business district in Singapore just to be around people who weren't trying desperately to have fun on the beach. The monoculture of leisure was as draining as the perpetual atmosphere of nervous impatience that permeates the world's airports.

There is something about creating an isolated environment focused on a single facet of daily life that seems to rob it of it reality. Everything that acts otherwise to that purpose, such as a cafe in an industrial part or the book shop at an airport, is bled of the genuine atmosphere that normally makes such places pleasant to visit (Filling airport bookshops with Dan Brown books probably doesn't help either). Whenever you do something contrary to the reason the place was built it feels like some sort of damp rebellion, a feeling that should never be encountered while eating a ham sandwich.

Maybe I just don't have enough focus, but I'd much rather have my places of work, sleep and fun all jumbled up with each other so I can do things without planning ahead and have a break when I need one.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Disney Yoghurt

I was at the supermarket earlier today and in the dairy section was a six pack of Disney Princesses strawberry yoghurt.

Aside from the obvious "Disney Princess yoghurt? What the hell?" reaction, another thought struck me. I think it was mostly the Belle, what with the coquettish off the shoulder look, but it in general the poses of the princesses are a little bit less fairytale princess and a little bit more men's magazine than Disney would maybe hope for from their snack food tie-ins. A few minutes on Google images, and then a few more minutes with some different search terms and safe search enabled and...

Obviously the amount of clothing makes a difference, but it does make me wonder exactly where the artists who designed the cover art for this six pack of dairy goodness went for their inspiration.