A very boring update

In case you want to see what a ~PowerMac G5 looks like, I just uploaded a bunch of pictures to Flickr. Unless you are into serious technopornography, don't bother to look.

Me? I'm just drooling on the computer and realizing that JSPWiki could be far more optimized for multiple CPUs than what it currently is. Hmm...

Anyhoo... One thing that I've been baking my noodle with lately is the concept of attention - particularly Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) from Linda Stone. I've certainly noticed that I am capable of multitasking until it becomes a real problem. I also know the concept of Flow (or "Zone"). It makes me wonder, purely from a hacker's viewpoint, is it just a coincidence that so many programmers I know also manifest these two capabilities, which appear diametrically opposed.

The programmer's life is to live in a state of CPA, but to seek the Flow. Strange paradox.

But anyhoo; I was listening to this ITConversations podcast from Supernova 2005, and the statistics presented by Linda Stone were somewhat worrying: the average office worker manages, on the average, to work 11 minutes on a single task - and is interrupted (again, on the average) three times during this 11-minute period. And every time the worker gets interrupted, it's about 25 minutes to get back to the task. And yet, some people (yes, including myself) willfully call for these interruptions by keeping tabs on blogs, email, SMSs, etc. Sometimes it seems that the only way to get anything done is to spend a few extra hours at work, but even then you can interrupt yourself when you let your mind wander. Even worse, if you get into the Zone, and you get interrupted, you end up in a quasi-state: not quite capable of handling the interruption ("you're again million miles away, darling"), but unable to get back into the Zone. This is bad, and it's getting worse, as I get older. And all, as Linda Stone puts it, "because we are so afraid of missing something important, we divide our attention everywhere and do not concentrate on the task at hand."

One thing that I learned during by years of practicing martial arts was controlling your attention: not letting it wander and making it concentrated on the situation around you. I seem to have forgotten most of it, so maybe I should restart practicing it somehow. But how, that is the question? It's so much easier to concentrate with someone trying to punch you in the face than it is to do when staring at a Powerpoint slide.

There is a concept of awareness, called Zanshin, which is traditionally difficult to explain. On the surface the concept of being aware of everything smells like CPA. But I think that this CPA thing may be just a bastardized, wrong interpretation of Zanshin. It's not about dividing your attention; it's really just that, being aware of things. Maybe the fact that the online world is not real contributes to this? Do we have the capacity to divide our attention into two realms at once? Perhaps we don't, and that explains the incredible popularity of blogs, online gaming, and other forms of this... pseudo-reality.

Maybe I'm just rambling, because I am in a form of a Zone. I'm writing this pretty much on one sitting; and thoughts flow through my head, but unlike when I am programming, I lack the language to dump this all in a form that would be unambiguous to the recipient. Which is annoying. I can sort of feel things happening around me, but I cannot really respond. I'm not really thinking; things just flow through from my brain onto the screen.

I need more of this, and less of CPA.

Tell me, how do you manage? How do you fight CPA? How do you keep the balance? Or do you?

Read plenty more about this concept, called Life Hacking, from New York Times. Matt Jones also speaks wise words, though he did all this two years ago already.

I'll need to think more about what this means with respect to the mobile vs. portable computing and the foreground-background thing.

(Or maybe I am just rambling.)




Comments

Cool computer!

If it would run EVE, I'd get one. After asking for permission from my wife, too.

--Pare, 27-Oct-2005


It's a good thing I don't particularly like computer games...

--JanneJalkanen, 27-Oct-2005


What? It wasn't a quad after all?

:-)

Still lusting after one...

--Kimberly, 27-Oct-2005


No; they were a wee bit too expensive. And I frankly couldn't figure out any use for a quad - for a dual, yes, but for a quad... Not for my use cases.

--JanneJalkanen, 27-Oct-2005


Hey Janne,

Regarding interruptions, CPA, and seeking the flow... I've found that affecting the outward appearance of being an obnoxious bastard helps prevent interruptions(*), being draconian about compartmentalizing "work-time" and about exiting email and IM apps during said times all helps to give flow a chance to happen.

Good thoughts man, this one resonated with me.

Regards, John Volkar

ps: (*) The phrase "I'm a nice guy damn-it" said when you're not officailly wearing your bastard hat seems help minimize the inevitable number of people who come believe that I really am an obnoxious bastard.

--JohnVolkar, 29-Oct-2005


Thanks John!

--JanneJalkanen, 30-Oct-2005


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