Praj's Blog

Short Posts

I’m intentionally trying to keep my posts short. The younger generations get a lot of flack for this, apparently our short attention span means we don’t read much anymore and ignore things because we can’t focus. I disagree, if anything, I blame mass-media and advertising for diminishing our attention spans. But enough on that.

The argument is silly. Think newspapers (back in the day people used to get their news on printed sheets of paper), and very few people would actually read an entire newspaper. The general approach was to skim for interesting headlines, read a paragraph or two, and then decide if it was worthwhile continuing. Now think about how that applies to the whole Internet. There’s a lot of stuff out there, so most people, understandably¬†don’t want to read a rambling essay.

Another thing about the Internet (and it’s true advantage) is that you can read a few paragraphs about something, and even if that’s the end of the article, you can research and find out more on the relevant topic. You simply don’t need to write all that will ever be written on a subject anymore.

I know you’re young and I know you’re not afraid. But when it’s time to go is that what you’ll say (I’m not afraid)?

Sprung Monkey (What’s that you say?)

On Multitasking

There are lots of ideas out there on productivity and multitasking. Many take a black-or-white view; it is either a good thing or a bad thing.

My take is that you have to understand what multitasking means. Just like a computer, multitasking gives the illusion of doing more than one thing at a time by quickly context-switching between tasks. The catch, is that in a human mind, context-switching causes significant lag. This lag is referred to by terms such as “losing focus”, “getting distracted”, “wandering”, or even “procrastinating”. However, a lot of multi-taskers may not even know that they are suffering from this problem.

Context-switching costs productivity in cases where you need significant focus. Basically things that involve high-level brain activity like creating or problem solving. You know, the stuff that matters. Multitasking in this area is a terrible idea. It leads to a common syndrome – instead of doing one thing well, you attempt lots of things, and get nothing done. Then, when you stop and reflect, you are left wondering where your day went. This is where the single-task, single-focus movement can have a powerful change in your life. Remember that society is making us all into multitaskers by dividing and conquering our attention (the quintessential example being advertising).

There is however another stream of activities where multitasking can be a really useful thing – and this is when you are doing mundane activities. Think stuff like chores, watching TV or waiting in line. Here, you can become more efficient by “grouting” these activities with something useful like reading or listening to a book, doing some exercise, or responding to straightforward emails. The key being to recognise and take advantage of these opportunities.

I subscribe to the belief that the most productive people don’t necessarily work harder than the average person, they are simply smarter about what they do and when.

Plural conventions

Memorability is a key component of software development. So please, when you are developing software, pick a plural convention and stick with it. If you are going to call your database table “users” (since it holds many user records), then refer to your model with the same plural. If your user object is an instance of one user, then please refer to it singularly as “user”. The same rules need to apply throughout your design and implementation.

The key is that it should be easy to remember the convention once you know the rules (and the less rules, the easier it is to remember them!). I don’t mind what rules you use. The problem, and reason behind so many developer flame wars, is inconsistency. We think in patterns and systems, and nothing irks us more than when those patterns and systems break for no good reason.

Multitail

If you spend a lot of time watching and working with log files on Linux systems, then you’ll love Multitail.

It’s a simple install with yum –

$ sudo yum install multitail

I’ve only just discovered it, and here’s some of the things I really like about it:

  • Forwards/backwards scrolling, great for terminal windows (f/b keys)
  • Search (/ key)
  • Syntax highlighting, including apache, mysql, log4j and other log formats (c, then S for scheme)
  • Press F1 to get more help

Mac Finder navigation shortcuts

Two really handy keyboard shortcuts for navigating around a file system on a Mac.

  • In finder you can press cmd+shift+G to go to any location directly.
  • In an file dialog windows, press the / key to specify the save location or starting location.

This makes it so much easier to set where to go or save things than trying to use the standard finder GUI.

Simple theme

I hope you like the new theme. I just picked it from the list that¬†Tumblr provides and made some very minor changes. Easy. Really, I don’t want you to notice the theme at all. As I mentioned, the purpose of this blog is about communicating, not showing off fancy themes.

I take inspiration from the minimalistic theme changes that have happened at Zen Habits. If you’ve followed that site for a while, you would have noticed that more and more things have been taken away from the theme over years, until only the essentials are left – the words on the site in a readable and useful format.

Switch to Tumblr

As you can see, I’ve moved my blogging platform to Tumblr (I was using my own hosted WordPress). There are a few reasons for doing this, but the most important one is that this blog is about communicating, not maintaining a blogging platform. I want something that just works, and allows me to share things quickly and easily. I don’t know about you, but nothing kills my creativity faster than frustrating side-issues and jumping through hoops to make something happen.