Round the world in 28 days

I’ve just returned from four weeks travel to Athens, The Netherlands, Australia (Brisbane and Sydney), and Las Vegas. It is good to be home in Sherwood sleeping in my own bed. This trip was a combination of vacation, work, and geeky holiday. I and spoke at three different conferences in three weeks. JAOO Brisbane and Sydney was an opportunity to hear Erik Meijer give a great talk about why fundamentalist functional programming languages (think Haskell) solve the problems we procedural and oo language programmers just sweep under the rug. And then I got to grill Erik on why he thinks that declaring types to include side effects so important to writing good programs. Where else does a geeky woman get to hang out and talk shop with other software geeks? I snuck in some sight seeing too. The picture is of me taking rental bike across the Brisbane Harbor on a ferry. A bike ride with Dave Thomas and Kresten Thorup was about the only sunny day we had in Brisbane. The rains came to Australia just in time for JAOO.

In Greece I saw lots of ruins, attended the annual IEEE Software planning meeting, and ate lots of Greek salads, simply prepared fish, and drink thick coffee. They call it Greek coffee, but a few years ago even the Greeks called it Turkish coffee. But one highlight I won’t forget is hearing Linda Rising and her husband Karl sing “Take me out to the Ball Game” at the ampitheater at Epidaurus, Greece. They volunteered to demonstrate the phenomenal acoustics. It gave me goose bumps. Constructed in 500 BCE, the ampitheater perfectly amplifies sound from on stage to everywhere in the theater. You can whisper stage center and people in the back row can hear you perfectly. And sound is amplified back to you, too. Truly an engineering marvel, the acoustics are because of the location and how the ampitheater was carved into the rocky hillside.

I’ll be sliding back into a more normal work routine, but before the magic of this wonderfult trip fades, I hope to share some thoughts and reflections and experiences over the next few days.

Wrong Design?!

On our recent vacation to Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong we delighted in the awkwardly worded pseudo-english phrases on t-shirts, jackets, school notebooks, stationery. In fact my prize souveneirs are several school notebooks. One has a drawing of a telephone on the cover and this definition: 1. N-PLURAL: Communications are the systems and processes that are used to communicate or broadcast information, especially by means of electricity or radio waves.

Another has a weathered photo of a bag of peanuts and this saying:

Pleasure of life
It is time all day’s tiredness is relived and space is full of cozy relaxtion and a joy of my own.
The surroundings calm down in deep silence.
And I enjoy my own time.

I took this photo in Hong Kong. Surely the name must be a cruel joke. I showed this photo to a friend who suggested the Chinese characters might be roughly translated as “design king” or “king of designer”. If you can confirm this or know better, let me know.

When someone shouts “Wrong design!” or, “That won’t work!” or, “Your design stinks!” he’s being judgmental. My latest IEEE design column, Handling Design Criticism, talks about how to filter out constructive criticisms from noise…and what it takes to really get behind people’s judgments, puffy praise, and aesthetic arguments to discover the real issues.

As I was writing my column, it occurred to me that it is as important to be skilled at effectively giving criticism as it is taking it. I’ve gotten better at this over the years. No longer do I write scathing reports or repeatedly restate my objections until I wear everyone down. Maybe I’ve mellowed with age, but I think it’s more than that. I’ve learned to point out issues in ways that aren’t so confrontational and to pick my battles. Hey, if I ask you leading questions so that you come to the same conclusion as I did without a confrontation, we can both be happy! It’s not a sneaky tactic, really it’s not. I’m not perfect giving constructive advice and I’d like to get even better. So I’m polling friends, family, and seeing how they manage to point out design flaws without waging battles or making enemies. If you have found clever ways to offer constructive design advice, drop me a line. I’d love to hear your story.