Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Tonight I was at home working late on multiple important projects.  I was stressed out, focused, and in a flow state with a mental house of cards carefully built up as I worked through the problems trying to make the best decisions.

My wife wandered in and told me we were out of eggs. My flow state disappeared and I forgot what I was thinking about.  The house of cards collapsed. I got annoyed at the trivial interruption and snipped at her. Offended, she snipped back and then left me alone.

I got back to work and wrapped stuff up in a few hours.  I still felt bad for snipping at her.  I was ashamed of acting like that.  So I went to apologize.  She was already asleep but I woke her up anyway.  There were lots of excuses for me to act like I did and all of them wanted to jump out of my mouth and justify my behavior.  Work stress, long days, cranky baby, tired, the list went on.  I paused and fought back against my excuses.  I'm not ashamed to say that it wasn't easy, some part of me wanted to justify what I did.  But I didn't;  I said I was sorry and there was no excuse for acting like I did.  I asked for her forgiveness.  I was able to go to bed with my conscience clear but I still couldn't sleep.  A question was still bothering me so I got on here to try and write it down.

Why do people make excuses for our behavior?

I can understand the desire to make excuses.  I felt the pull myself tonight.  The justification feels like instant absolving of the wrong and being absolved feels better than guilt.  But in reality, excuses only serve to justify poor decisions.  By justifying them we are, in a way, claiming they were the right thing to do.  Excuses allow us to hide a "wrong" behind a facade of "right" and lie to ourselves.  Justifying things helps us pretend that they are out of our control.  We don't try and fix our behavior and do better next time.  Justifying poor decisions means that in the same situation in the future you're going to make the same poor choice and do it again.  The only way to really escape the shame and guilt of mistakes is to take a lesson from them.  If not, you've wasted an opportunity.

It's alright to make mistakes.  Don't make excuses or you run the risk of poor decisions following you around.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Funny thought experiment about information density

What are the human constraints of comprehension of numbers?  I think I have an idea of mine.  There are some cavernous mental pitfalls when thinking about information density.  This one regards the application of context (which always matters but is always stored outside of the data itself).

How many sentences, words, and sounds can be spoken in five minutes?  In any number of languages.  Is there an infinite possible number of languages and combination of languages itself?

Intuitively I do think of all the possibilities as infinite.

Some more thinking proves my intuition wrong.  Let's look at the problem from a different angle.  How much data is stored in that five minutes?

60 * 5 = 300 = length of recording (in seconds)
128 = bitrate (in kilobits per second)
z = file size (in kilobytes)
(300 * 128) / 8 = z
38,400 kilobits / 8 = 4,800 kb = 4.8mb

4.8mb of information is nowhere near infinite.  It's actually pretty damn small.  My intuition was dead wrong... or was it?

Maybe my intuitive perception of infinite languages is due to same sounds being perceived differently in context.  That's the infinite; it's in there somewhere but it's completely based on the infinite context of the same sounds.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Taking credit

As a manager, here's some simple rules for when to give and take credit for things:

Rule 1: When things are going well: give all the credit to others.  This includes members of your team and others external but involved with the team (sometimes even competitors).

Rule 2: When things aren't going well: take all the blame.  Then take action to fix it.

Too often I see scenarios where the giving and taking of credit for good ideas or jobs well done is carefully bartered and feelings get hurt easily.  The idea of a manager taking credit for the work of those he manages is so often cited it's now cliché.  It's jut a given in some places.  We should strive to not be like that.  Doing so creates resentment, undermines work performance, and damages your credibility.

If you find yourself in a scenario where somebody else has taken credit for your work, I've found it's always best to forgive unconditionally. Yes, I said always.  Harbouring your own resentment will undermine your own work performance and create barriers to your ability to communicate; never good.  If it's unjust enough that you get actually angry about it, just relax.  Take some time off or go work on something else until you cool down.  Then get over it and get back to work as if it never happened.  This is how to handle something with grace.

I've used the word grace in a few blog posts.  I looked up the definition today.  A funny thing about it, I think that when you give a pardon with grace you're acknowledging that the forgiveness isn't deserved.  They did something wrong and you're consciously making the decision to forget about it. This is grace. 

As I read modern thinking about scenarios like this, the universal advice seems to be to confront the offender.  I think this is a terrible idea and here's why: they know they did it and they already feel guilty about it.  If they don't know they did it, then they were acting without malicious intent so it doesn't matter anyway.  Why people do something is more important than what they do.  The universal sense of what's right and wrong is written into the heart of every person.  It's why we want to seek justice in the first place, because we want to make the other person suffer more in their guilt.  I don't think that's ever the right thing to do.  Better to drop it, move on, and keep trying to live and work as a better example.  Folks will see that.  With enough exposure to it, they will eventually want to emulate it.