Archive for June, 2005

Where birds sleep

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

DSCN5773, originally uploaded by trekr.

Now I know. This looks like the most impossible and uncomfortable place to sleep. But this little bird has perched in the same spot for the last week. I’ve never been able to photograph him because early in the evening he flies away when the back porch door is opened. But last night, I stayed up late and woke him up for a portrait. I believe this is one of the baby birds that hatched in the flower pot on our back porch this spring. From the nest he probably became comfortable with looking out at the ceiling. I suppose that this spot is somewhat similar to their natural habitat of exposed roots on overhanging stream banks. I’m curious if the sound of water from our fountain draws them to the porch.


Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

DSCN5571, originally uploaded by trekr.

Chiltepin is the official native pepper of Texas. (Legislators have to write laws about something, its their job.) Sometimes called the bird pepper because birds have dispersed the seeds from Mexico to the southwestern states. Its super hot, and my favorite pepper because the bite is sharp but it dissipates readily so your mouth won’t burn long. Great on eggs and rice. The first harvest is usually in August and they keep coming until the first strong frost. In my part of Texas, they freeze back but the roots survive and the plant comes back more vigorous every year. This is a photo of my oldest plant, already with the first peppers set! Its going to be a good year if this keeps up! Email me if you’d like some seeds from this year’s harvest.

Keep your Peace

Monday, June 6th, 2005

A pair of owls has taken up residence in our neighborhood. I know the owls are here because every morning about 4 am they start calling to each other from the tall pines just outside my bedroom window. Its loud. It wakes me up. When the sun rises, the crows begin to protest the presence of the owls. The other day I watched three crows relentlessly dive on an owl perched near the top of a pine tree. The crows made a terrible racket, but there was not a sound from the owl. When the owl took flight, it quickly caught the wind and soared aloft. As the owl rose higher, the crows gave up. There is something to be learned from watching the conflict between owls and crows. When a crow comes after you, rise above him and keep peace in yourself.

Praying Mantis

Monday, June 6th, 2005

DSCN5387, originally uploaded by trekr.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."  – Excerpt from the notebooks of Lazarus Long, from Robert Heinlein’s "Time Enough for Love"

I’ve been in Texas a long time and haven’t seen too many praying mantis. I found this baby praying mantis in the hawthorne bushes. Its not more than a quarter of an inch long.

As a kid growing up in Ohio, this was our favorite insect to catch because it requires a bit of skill to pinch them before they pinch you! In the fall, we would release them in my mother’s garden so that they would build their egg pods in the shrubs around the house.

Never do the Last Thing

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

Today I heard it again.  "Our software team is very passionate, and we work seventy hours a week".  Well, I don’t believe it.  Besides, its not a good idea to try to consistently work seventy hours a week. 

I once read a story about a woodcarver that decided to work late to finish carving a detail in the face of a statue he had been working on for months.  Even though he had worked a full day and was tired, he wanted to finish just this one last thing before he left for the day.   His chisel was dull and wasn’t cutting well, so he pushed a little harder and suddenly cut out a large gouge that ruined the entire piece.  After that experience, he vowed never to do the last thing.   (If you know the origin of this story please help me with the attribution).

Knowing the story didn’t stop me from doing the last thing until one day after adding some functionality, I broke the entire software build.   I called my wife around 4 p.m. and told her I’d be an hour late.   Then I loaded up the debugger and started stepping through the code.   It seemed like in just a few minutes she was calling me back asking where I was.  I looked at my watch, it was 8 p.m.  That was literally, the 13th hour.   I was tired and making mistakes.  So I went home, and the next morning, I solved the problem in the first 20 minutes I was at work.   The power of the subconscious I suppose.  After that, I vowed, "Never do the last thing".

If you are a manager, ask yourself, do you really want someone carving on the face at the end of the day ?   Yet in the software business there is almost a cult-like ethos of the endless string of all nighters.   I suppose this isn’t limited only to the software industry, but that’s why we are afraid of the hospital.

I’m not impressed when creative people claim they work seventy hours a week, consistently.   For that to be true, you have to count a lot of non-productive time like reading emails, lunches and dinners, overnight travel, commuting, meetings you don’t need to be in, smoke and joke at the water cooler, browsing, blogging, etc.   We’d all be better off if we were more honest about what work is and how many hours we really "work", because then we’d have more realistic expectations of the people we lead.   I estimate that in a solid eight hour workday,  if you can average five hours of quality work, you’re doing well.  In fact, it is a significant challenge for managers to create a work environment that allows engineers to have those five hours free of meetings and other interruptions.

In the mid nineties I worked for a company that implemented policies that did allow at least five solid hours a day.  The first policy change was the concept of a time bank.  No sick days, or vacation.  If you didn’t log 40 hours at work, the difference came out of your time bank.   The policy was based on two observations backed by data.   A large number of exempt employees were not even physically present 40 hours a week, and a small minority was working excessive hours and had a higher voluntary attrition rate.  In addition, our customer had begun to adjust proposals for future work based on historical actuals.   So "free" overtime wasn’t free anymore, it was a handicap.  At the same time, the company instituted the concept of core hours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and required that you notify your supervisor if you weren’t going to be available during core hours.   Meetings were also limited to core hours only and required 24 hour notice if it wasn’t a standing meeting.  Finally, managers were held accountable for earned value relative to the hours expended.  Productivity actually increased with these policy changes.   Its easy to understand why.  There were less meetings, but everyone was there and on time.  There were less mistakes, because people weren’t tired.   Our ability to stay on schedule improved because we were measuring.  Everyone was happier.

I believe when we create a culture that pressures people to pretend that they work the mythical seventy hours a week, we actually get much less.   Why is it that people that claim they work seventy hours a week never finish anything early ?   Its simple, they didn’t plan to finish early.  And that’s the crux of the whole matter.   Teams that fall into this trap of kidding themselves that everyone is working a seventy hour week are poorly managed.   That’s my genuine verdict.