Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You won't grown neurons either: Quote of the week

Thanks to his (and Dave Thomas's) awesome and now "classic" book, The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master, I found Andy Hunt's blog.  (Dave also has a blog, and is on Twitter).  I'm actually hoping to read Andy's latest book, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware in the next few months so I'll post a review once I've gotten there.

This week's quote actually comes from a blog posting from just a week or so ago and was very timely...

But here’s the funny part. The reason researchers had never witnessed neurogenesis previously was because of the environment of their test subjects. If you’re a lab animal stuck in a cage, you won’t grow new neurons.

If you’re a programmer stuck in a drab cubicle, you won’t grow new neurons either.

On the other hand, in a sensory-rich environment with things to learn, observe, and interact with, you will grow plenty of new neurons and new connections between them. A steampunk-etched notebook or a funky new pen is not just inspirational in some abstract way; the increased tactile sensory experience actually encourages growth of new neurons and stronger connections...

Your working environment is a context as well. It needs to be rich in sensory opportunities, or else it will literally cause brain damage.

(emphasis mine)

Andy Hunt
/\ndy (http://blog.toolshed.com/2008/12/science-failure-and-cubicle-brain-death.html)

I've been trying to make some changes in my life, mostly in terms of clutter.  I've actually been trying to apply the principles of lean software development to life in general.  I'll probably post more on that later, but for now, suffice it to say that I'm thinking of ways to be more effective and "live lean".  I was inspired by this zen habits post and have been contemplating Leo's minimalist workspace.  Do I want to have nothing on my desk but my computer?  It sounds appealing in some ways, but according to the study referenced in Andy's post, going to that extreme probably will kill brain cells!

I really like Scott Hanselman's home office.  He does a nice job of breaking down the things that you should have in any office where you spend a significant amount of time.  I actually got some of the Billy shelves from IKEA recently for home and they're pretty nice for how much they cost.

So, I have conflicting advice from two respected sources...  I could reduce the number of papers floating around, probably get rid of a lot of the stuff that I have stored and reduce the amount of unused "stuff" that I have laying around (both my home and work offices).  I have some desk toys at work, including a Ball of Whacks, which is a lot of fun to play with for me as well as for visitors to my office. 

I think the big this is to be more intentional with the things that are on my desk and the things I keep in and around my desk.  I need to do a better job of crafting the space around me, especially where I work.  Being more aware of your space and more purposeful with what you do with it can go a long way to improve productivity and possibly even stimulate brain growth!  I have some other stuff that I plan on bringing in, hopefully to minimize the drab gray colors of the (unpaintable :( ) office walls and create an environment "rich in sensory opportunities", cause I don't have any brain cells to spare.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Important is not a binary thing: Quote of the week

Joel Spolsky doesn't really need an introduction.  He's one of the rare people that you can refer to by their first name, people know who you're talking about.  He's so famous that there are people selling shirts referring to the man.

He hasn't been as chatty lately on his website as he was in the "golden years" of Joel on Software, so this is from a few years ago:

More importantly, I should have realized that "important" is not a binary thing, it's an analog thing. There are all kinds of different shades of important, and if you try to do everything, you'll never get anything done.
So if you want to get things done, you positively have to understand at any given point in time what is the most important thing to get done right now and if you're not doing it, you're not making progress at the fastest possible rate.
Joel Spolsky
Joel on Software (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/SetYourPriorities.html)

I suggest you read that post, along with all the other old posts that he has in his archive.

As for the content, I find it interesting that this is one of the primary components of Agile development.  You don't do things in random order just cause they need to eventually get done, you work on what's important now.  Scrum gives you specific points to inject changes to the "what's important now" list but allows you the chance to focus for a sprint.

In any case, I think the challenge is being able to identify what is the "most important thing to get done right now".  I don't have all the answers and will probably post later with more thoughts on the subject, but since my "quote of the week" was quickly becoming a "quote of the month", I figured I should post something :)

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